Katsunobu Kato (pictured in Tokyo on Tuesday, April 6) said on Monday that he intends to introduce a 'selective three-day weekly holiday system', based on initial recommendations made by the Liberal Democratic Party's headquarters, within the month
Japan's government is considering bringing in a four-day working week aimed at improving people's quality of life, the country's Chief Cabinet Secretary has said.

It is hoped that the scheme would also boost the country's tourism industry that has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, in a nation known for long working hours.

Katsunobu Kato said on Monday that he intends to consider the introduction of a 'selective three-day weekly holiday system', based on initial recommendations made by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, within the month.

'It is important to promote diverse work styles from the perspective of balancing life and work, such as childcare, long-term care, and fighting illness,' he said.

As Chief Cabinet Secretary, Kato coordinates policies of ministries and agencies in the executive branch, serves as the government's press officer, conducts policy research and prepares materials to be discussed at cabinet meetings.

He said he would like to 'examine what the government can do' about implementing a 'voluntary three-day holiday', which would mean not only would Japan's workers be permitted a three-day weekend, but they could choose which three days to take off.

Kato stressed the need for people to have a healthy work-life balance, and that three days off a week would help people when it comes to childcare, caring for elderly relatives or fighting illnesses.

It would also likely result in people staying in their jobs for longer, and lead to people travelling more, and thus helping Japan's ailing tourism industry.

Last month, it was announced that spectators from abroad would be banned from attending the 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to be held this summer due to the potential spread of Covid-19, striking another blow to the industry.

According to SoraNews24, Microsoft Japan carried out a three-day weekend experiment in 2019, which showed improvements in worker productivity, with reports suggesting that workers got 40 percent more work done.

But despite the apparent success of the trial, no new policy was forthcoming.

Some have expressed concern that a three-day weekend could potentially decrease people's wages, while others are worried companies could increase working hours on non-holiday days to make up for the lost day.

Japan's rule Liberal Democratic Party, in which Kato is a minister, has reportedly already begun discussing the idea of a three-day weekend in the 'Promoting Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens' department.

As its next step, it is expected to submit proposals after consulting with experts.

Suicide is a major issue in Japan with one of the highest rates in the world, with its long working hours often cited as a reason behind some people's unhappiness.

In February, Japan appointed its first Minister of Loneliness after suicide rates rose for the first time in 11 years.

Comment: Suicide rates across the world have risen, particularly amongst women, in countries with harsh lockdowns, and among those with already high suicide rates.

Following the example of a similar appointment in the UK in 2018, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appointed minister Tetsushi Sakamoto to the role.

Suga's administration considers the issue to be an urgent, with the loneliness amongst Japan's population being put into the spotlight again due to the pandemic.

Isolation is seen as the cause of a number of other social issues, such as suicide, poverty and social reclusiveness.

Comment: Less time at work isn't necessarily going to address the issues above. As we've seen with the lockdowns and working from home, for some it could actually increase loneliness and isolation.

Preliminary figures released by Japan's National Police Agency showed that 20,919 people took their own lives in 2020 - 750 more than in 2019.

Sakamoto - who is also in charge of tackling the nation's falling birth rate and revitalising struggling regional economics - said he hopes to 'carry out activities to prevent social loneliness and isolation and to protect ties between people.'

In October, Japan saw more people die from suicide than had died from Covid-19 in all of 2020, the data shows.

There were 2,153 deaths from suicide in October alone, while Japan had seen 1,765 coronavirus-related deaths by the end of October 2020 for the whole year.

As of February 22, 2021, 7,541 people have died from Covid-19 in Japan since the start of the pandemic, still far fewer the number lost to suicide in 2020.

The increase marked the fires year-on-year rise in 11 years, and is largely attributed to a surge in suicides among women and young people, according to the Japan Times.