A lot of English teachers have come here thinking that Japan would be the perfect base to travel around Asia, but after years the reality sinks in that taking your holidays at a good time for you can be harder than it should be.
Summer is a mess with your school forcing you to come in and do busy work. Everyone has Golden Week off so the cost of travel spikes. After your first year here those insurance and municipal taxes drain just enough to make splashing out on a holiday a little risky.
But there are ways you can take the holiday you need when you want to. Remember as we said before in the post about language barriers that as a foreigner in Japan you have the advantage of not being expected to do things the same way as Japanese people. You can take your holidays if you do it right.
For all the legal information you need in English, take a look at the government work guidelines here: Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare Guidelines.
Understand your school’s vacation/holiday policies
A lot of the time, taking time off during school term is tough and looks bad. You might not realise it, but teaching here is a big responsibility and your school may not like it if you suddenly decide to take a normal school day off. It is much better to try and schedule your days when you don’t have any real responsibilities. I used to do mine during test weeks, which was a real treat since I could easily get cheap flights out of Japan because they weren’t Japanese holiday times.
Sometimes you have unavoidable travel needs, so if possible beforehand you can explain your situation. Even then you may find that some middle management might not like it, so talk to people higher up the chain if you feel like there is a problem in difficult situations.
I had a friend once whose dad passed away while he was in Japan. He was Jewish, and his culture required the burial to be very soon after death. He told his company and was shocked when they told him that he couldn’t go back to the states for the funeral at such short notice. He did so anyway and when he came back had some issues with the kyoto-sensei (deputy head) of the school.
After his dispatch company heard about his poor treatment from the school, they sincerely apologised to my friend and were much more understanding than his direct boss had been.
Trouble over sudden travel for that situation is uncommon, but be ready for it. Unfortunately many Japanese companies reject next to all requests for holiday or frown upon it a lot. As a gaikokujin you can avoid a lot of the issues Japanese might have with taking holiday like this.
Submit your request in writing with as much notice as you can
Japan is a country where bureaucracy has an important role. Filing the right paperwork at the right time will really help to make sure that the holiday you put in for actually gets appropriated. You might have a verbal agreement with your boss and they might have every intention of giving you the holiday days you asked for, but they can easily be overruled by the policies of the company or the school, so be sure to give as much notice as possible (at least 2 weeks or a month if you can) to take those days off without risking losing the days.
Sometimes these forms will be in Japanese so ask one of the other staff where those forms are. If you can’t do it by yourself and don’t want to bother someone else to help you, use the very useful Google Translate app on your phone to translate the page and write your holiday application. Once it is in writing you’ll have an easier time getting your holiday days.
Make sure your Visa information is up to date
I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times people I know have left Japan without sorting their visa or other re-entry details. This is much easier now with the Zairyuu card, but this is especially true if you are leaving Japan while your visa is up for renewal. Remember to bring a photocopy of the waiting period form they give you when you submit for visa renewal, as otherwise you might find it hard to get back into the country.
Also remember that you can’t leave Japan for more than a year or your visa will be revoked, so if you’re going to be gone for a long time make sure to tell the visa office so you can ensure your re-entry to Japan.
Try not to miss classes, but if you must be ready to do catchup
It may seem unreasonable to some, but if you do end up missing classes to take vacation days, be ready to make up that time afterwards. You may want to work a little longer each day for a while so the school doesn’t feel like you aren’t a hard worker.
I can feel the comments already: “But it’s my right to take a holiday!!!”
You’re preaching to the choir. I have no tolerance for companies that don’t let their employees take holiday, which is one of the reasons why I’ve switched companies so many times in Japan. It is a reality for the country we live in – taking holiday is sometimes seen as being selfish and not thinking about the team. Get used to that and feel free to question it, but realise that change comes very slowly in Japan and it is likely to be a reality for a long time to come.
Always bring back omiyage
Absolutely critical, if you leave Japan and take a trip, bring back something for your co-workers from your travels. This is an easy thing to do, and doesn’t need to be big. Try to get something local from the area you went to, perhaps something exotic that your co-workers wouldn’t have seen before. It doesn’t need to be expensive either, maybe a box of some sweets with enough for every teacher to get one.
Doing this alone will help to make sure that taking holiday is a perfectly acceptable and reasonable thing to do in your job in Japan. It should be anyway, but hey: this is Japan!
Have you had time for a good holiday since you came to Japan? Have you ever had trouble taking holiday here? Tell us in the comments below