Japanese people need to take longer holidays, is the answer to why Germans are happier than the Japanese, according to Japanese freelance journalist Toru Kumagai in his new book “Why do Germans feel rich on only Y2.9m (£20,000) a year?”
Japanese people see shopping as a leisure activity that they can do in just a few hours or a day for pleasure or stress release, and are too busy working. Germans can take holidays as they please, and will take 2 or 3 weeks off work at a time.
When Germans go on holiday, they will go to the seaside or countryside, with their family. In a recent insurance company survey, “sunshine and nature” was seen as the most attractive element of a holiday. Kumagai points out that as a Northern European country, Germany does not get as many hours of sunshine as Portugal or Southern France. So holidays are an important moment to refresh and recharge.
I’ve often thought that golf continues to be popular in Japan because it provides distant horizons and greenery. Respectable research in the West has shown a link between greenspace and mental health, although the causality is not yet clear. Although there is a lack of greenspace in Japanese cities, Japanese are good at taking mini breaks that let them refresh and recharge in natural surroundings, such as hiking in the mountains and staying in hot spring resorts.
Compared to Germany, there are far more advertisements and TV commercials aimed at selling something new and leading edge – whether it’s smartphones, beer or sweets, Kumagai notes. Japanese throw away old things even if they are still usable, as their homes are overflowing with new purchases. Whereas according to Kumagai, Germans will treasure old items and are used to buying second hand items. They are also very environmentally conscious and one of the major recycling nations of the world.
Kumagai also points the finger at the overservicing of customers in Japan, placing burdens on employees. He quickly adds that he doesn’t want German bad customer service to be imported into Japan, but just that Japan has gone too far in trying to please. For example, when you buy bread rolls in Japan, each one is put in a separate bag, and then all the bags put in another bag. If this kind of overservicing and customer expectations were reduced, Japanese workers could take longer holidays, Kumagai suggests.
Japanese consumers need to accept that a delivery might take a day longer, so more people can take Sundays off, or that delivery time windows will not be quite so narrow. Customers in Germany get thrown out of the shop when it’s closing time, but not in Japan.
I watched Spirited Away for the second time recently, which made me more aware of the environmental message in it – such as the river spirit spewing up old bicycles and trash. I also realised the Shinto element was a strong motif – the idea of spirits in natural things and the need to simplify life by not being unnecessarily greedy and accumulative. Much has been written, often snide, about the Shinto influence on Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” approach to decluttering, but as Kumagai says, Japan could benefit from a richer spiritual life if it went back to those Shinto ways (and also Buddhist) of not demanding so much and enduring so much in terms of long hours of work.
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