Japan is to force workers to take their paid holidays in an attempt to combat a culture of excessive work that has led to soaring levels of stress and suicide.
A law will make companies ensure that their staff take at least five days off a year after a survey showed that most holidays were not taken.
The average Japanese worker is entitled to 18.5 paid days off, but in 2013 took only nine. More than 16 per cent of employees took no holidays. Only South Koreans take fewer days off.
At present it is the responsibility of workers, not their employer, to make sure that leave is used. The change would introduce fines for companies whose employees failed to take a minimum number of days off. The government has set a goal of increasing the proportion of paid holidays claimed to 70 per cent by 2020.
In 2012, 338 Japanese workers died of brain or heart conditions caused by overwork, an increase for the second consecutive year. The number of workers who suffered from mental illness increased by 50 per cent to 475, and of these 93 people killed themselves or attempted to commit suicide.
As well as making the nation happier, the government hopes that introducing compulsory holidays will encourage more household spending by giving people time to go shopping and travel — and even increase the birthrate.