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I can only give you my experience (working as a civil servant, teaching English in a public high school). People generally have 20 days of vacation and 20 days of sick leave per year. You can get more sick leave if there is a good reason (i.e. if you are hospitalised), but at some point I think disability kicks in. I can tell you (since I now have my own company) that disability insurance is private, so the details will vary. There is also no requirement for an employer to have disability insurance, although I'm pretty sure they do in the government (I had a couple of friends on disability for a couple of years).

Generally speaking, people do not take time off in their first year of employment (either vacation time of sick leave). If you are very ill, you need to go to the doctor and get a note. This includes the flu. Basically, you go to the doctor and if the doctor thinks there is a chance that you might have the flu, then you you'll get a note.

People go to the doctor when they even just have the sniffles. There are clinics everywhere and walk in appointments are the norm. You just go in, fill in forms (if you aren't already a patient there), wait for an hour or so, talk to the doctor for 10 minutes and then leave. If the doctor says you shouldn't go to work, then "It can't be helped" and you can't go to work. Pretty much that's the end of it.

However it can get more complicated than that. If you are ill a lot, you will generally get some criticism. Your presence is considered necessary and so if you aren't there, then other people have to put in extra work (whether that's really true or not depends on the job, I guess). Most people will use a vacation day rather than a sick day if they are ill. However, that's in the context that people don't generally use all their vacation days, so it's pretty difficult to say.

For me, I underwent minor surgery while I was working at the school and took 2 sick days (one to go to the hospital when I was very ill and one to have the surgery). One of my colleagues complained, but my department head protected me. Probably sounds very weird, right? But that's the way it is. Me taking a day off meant more work for the colleague, but the department head decided it would be better in the long run if I didn't die ;-)

Again, I have to stress that the time off thing is very different than other places. When I got married, I went to my department head to see if there was a way I could take a day off. He said, "Absolutely. Would you like the morning or afternoon off?" I ended up getting married on a public holiday.

I had a colleague who had a bad back (he used to be a pro wrestler in Mexico of all things -- Japanese guy). He had to have a ton of surgery (over several years). He was gone at least 6 months without going on disability, but then eventually the school had to ask him to go on disability so that they could hire a temporary replacement. On the other extreme, I knew someone with cancer who had to go for regular treatments and the school asked if there was some way he could schedule his treatments so that they didn't interfere with his work schedule. So it's not at all what you might imagine (either one way or the other). Sometimes they bend over backwards to help you out and sometimes they make seemingly petty demands. It depends a lot on your management and the organisation. And sometimes it even depends on your colleagues because if they complain about you a lot, then the department head has to do something to fix the problem. In Japan, forcing your department head to fix a problem is pretty well the best way to get in their bad books -- you are supposed to take responsibility and find solutions to problems yourself.

And I think that last sentence really sums up my experience with that kind of thing in Japan. Creating problems (even if they aren't your fault) that others have to fix is just tremendously bad form. This puts a lot of pressure on you do find a solution -- and often that solution is "I'll go to work even if I'm ill".




Thank you; I should've learned about Japanese work culture earlier. (The only thing I'd heard, for a long time, was how to respectfully receive and give business cards.)

One time, while I was a fairly new high-level engineer of a university tech spinoff that had been acquired by a Japanese company, I got a bad ear infection that took several doctor visits to diagnose (then was cured trivially). As perhaps a natural "company man", I felt even worse about my performance nosediving, than I did about the symptom misery. No one was happy about it.

I did recover a tiny bit of the goodwill I lost, when I was working in the empty office over some major holiday (Christmas break?), and the Japanese executive appeared at some point, and asked why I was there. I said I'd been sick, and was trying to make it up. He seemed to approve.

That time, or a similar after-hours occasion around then, the Japanese executive asked me where one can get food, so I started telling him directions to nearby grocery stores and restaurants, and he didn't seem to understand, so I went into increasing detail with the directions and other options. Years later, I learned that there's some Japanese office culture around going out after work with colleagues, and I suppose he might've been suggesting that, but not directly enough for oblivious me.


Thank you very much for this explanation. It reminded a bit when I read The Chrysanthemum and the Sword by Ruth Benedict. I visited Japan (and stayed with locals all the time) this last year after reading that book and I didn't see most of these rigid descriptions Ruth Benedict explained there, but I felt like they have this kind of work culture that is way different than mine in Spain.


You guys are probably at the other ends of the spectrum, and not only geographically :p


While I find it funny and I like those jokes, I think your comment implies a bit of ignorance. You should look for a list of countries ordered by their GDP (PPP) per hour worked. Spain's productivity is a bit higher than Japan's (I'm not an expert, so maybe there are more technical data to check out). Here you have a couple of links:

List of countries by GDP (PPP) per hour worked: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)...

Problem of productivity in Spain - compared with Germany: http://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/la-productividad-del-tra...

And of course we like our siesta and enjoy our nice weather! haha


I know, I was just joking. I've been to Spain and I know that the whole "sleeping at work" stereotype is based on things from 200 years ago :)


Thank you for sharing your experience.

It seems like Japan would benefit greatly from telecommuting. (it is a developed economy with well built telecommunication infrastructure, affinity for robotics/etc).

is there such a trend in that country?


I haven't heard of anything like that. I think it is inevitable eventually but it's really antithetical to the culture at the moment. Everything is done really cooperatively so the idea of being alone working at home would probably incite a few heart attacks :-)

What's really interesting to me on the opposite side is that I've never heard of pair programming in Japan. I really should go on the speaker circuit here because it seems like the perfect Japanese technique.

Anyway, if someone wants to start a risky startup for the Japanese market, some kind of software that enables collaborative work while telecommuting is probably necessary. It could probably make a lot of money eventually, but risky in the short term until something like that is accepted.




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