Celebrating its first Mountain Day, Japan hopes for less stress for its workers and more spending for its economy, all in admiration of its famous peaks. But many may not even be aware of the brand new holiday.
Japan, whose territory is covered nearly 70 percent by mountains, is well-known for its picturesque peaks. And two years ago, in recognition of their significance, the country's parliament declared August 11 "Mountain Day," to be observed starting in 2016.
The aim was to give an opportunity for Japanese to "get familiar with mountains and be thankful for blessings from mountains." It was designed to be an occasion to undertake mountain-related activities such as trekking and skiing.
Mountain Day became the 16th annual holiday in Japan, the most among the Group of Eight advanced industrialized countries. However, Japanese workers on average take much less vacation time compared to those in Europe, and they also spend more time at work. Working conditions in the country frequently draw criticism for the onerous burden they impose on workers.
"Japanese people put in punishingly long hours, the work they do is generally tedious, their vacations are short, there is immense pressure on them, and the corporate culture means they are expected to spend a lot of time drinking with their colleagues when they do finally get out of the office," Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, told DW.
It remains to be seen how many Japanese are actually taking time off today. A recent survey conducted by the Tokyo-based Japan Weather Association showed that nearly a third of the respondents weren't aware of Mountain Day. And many of those aware of the holiday said they "want to rest at home," while only a small proportion of them want to go either traveling or to the mountains.
A boost to the economy?
Meanwhile many businesses hope that Mountain Day, which comes days before the Obon festival period when many Japanese take their summer vacation, will encourage consumers to spend more, thus giving a boost to the country's lackluster economy.
The Japanese Alpine Club, for instance, lobbied hard in favor the bill to institute Mountain Day.
For more than a decade, successive governments in Tokyo have been battling falling prices, stagnating growth and rising public debt.
In an attempt to get the ailing economy back on its feet, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently announced a massive stimulus package worth more than 28 trillion yen ($265 billion). It included direct fiscal measures, such as boosting spending by national and local governments, as well as loan programs.
Against this backdrop, some economists expect Mountain Day to stimulate consumer spending across a range of sectors.
For instance, Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo, told Bloomberg that the new national holiday, coupled with Obon, will contribute about 820 billion yen ($8 billion) in spending across the tourism, leisure, hospitality, transportation and retail industries.