Not only are Japanese summer holidays short, but it is also well known that Japanese office workers don’t take paid holidays very often. They feel guilty when they take holidays despite having a pile of work to do or despite their colleagues continuing to work busily. When everyone feels this way, it becomes more difficult to take days off.
I often discuss this topic with non-Japanese people working in Japan and, the other day, one student told me, “There is only one word for ‘yasumi’ in Japanese. On the other hand, there are many such words in English, such as vacation, holiday, day off, leave and break.” This is certainly true.
According to the dictionary:
yasumu: to pause your work or activity and relax physically and mentally (“yasumi” is its noun form)
If you break apart the kanji for “yasumi” (休), 亻on the left side stands for a person and 木 on the right side represents a tree. The person is leaning against the tree to relax his or her body.
Here are the definitions of the English words.
Vacation/holiday: period of time away from everyday work, used especially for travel, recreation and rest
Leave: permission given to an employee to be absent from work for a special reason
Break: interval especially between periods of work
When you look at them all side by side like this, you can see that the word “yasumi” can stand in for all of the English words. Indeed, both one-hour breaks and one-week summer holidays are, ultimately, time to relax away from work and are essentially the same to the Japanese.
Of course, it is possible to divide “yasumi” into different words in Japanese, too. For example, national holidays are “shukujitsu,” paid holidays are “yukyu kyuka,” and short breaks are called “kyukei.” However, they are all just various types of “yasumi” and can each be replaced by the word “yasumi.” Also, the phrase “oyasumi nasai,” which we always say before going to bed, tells you to finish the day’s activities and go to sleep, so sleeping is yet another example of “yasumi”.
The definition of “yasumi” is simple yet broad. A mere five-minute-break could be considered a “yasumi.” Therefore, when a “yasumi” lasts for two weeks, we might feel that it is too long and that is why we usually end up having a short summer vacation. What do you think about this conclusion?