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How to Ask for Time Off in Japanese

It can be a tricky business asking for time off in a Japanese workplace. Try these useful phrases.

By 3 min read

With the sad disappearance of Silver Week workers in Japan won’t be getting much of a break this September. While those people that weren’t happy about the length of this year’s Golden Week can feel good about it, for the rest of us, the fact that we only get two Mondays off in a row—on September 16 and September 23—is a bummer.

Still, if you want to make a long weekend of it, requesting the Friday before (the Monday) off could be a good way to squeeze out some more rest time before the end of the Japanese summer.

So what’s the best way to ask for some vacation at work? Here are a few phrases to help.

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50 Shades of Time Off

When you need to take some time off work, you will first need to know what type of time off you need. Japanese has a surprising number of different words for different types of time off, including:

  • 年休ねんきゅう = annual leave (you’ll hear this a lot if you’re working as an ALT or language teacher)
  • 有休ゆうきゅう = a holiday with pay (the standard way to refer to paid leave)
  • 振替休日ふりかえきゅうじつ = a holiday given to compensate for working outside one’s hours, also 代休だいきゅう is used
  • 病休びょうきゅう  = sick leave (see here for a guide to taking sick leave as an ALT)

Begin politely

When you want to get time off work, you will need to use your polite Japanese.

First of all, you will need to find a polite way to start your request. Luckily Japanese has a huge number of these. Two very useful ones are ちょっとすみません (Excuse me) and ちょっとおきしたいんですが (I would like to ask something).

One of the easiest ways to ask for time off is to use the verb いただく which is a very polite verb for receiving things from the listener. A typical sentence using this verb is 今度こんど金曜日きんようびにおやすみをいただきたいんですが (I would like to ask for a holiday on the coming Friday) wherein you are literally asking to “receive” a holiday from your boss!

There are two things to spot in this pattern. The 休み (holiday) has been changed to its polite form お休み. The ending ~んですが is used to soften the ending and give the listener the option of saying no, something that is usually accomplished using a descending tone in English.

A slightly more formal equivalent using the same ~んですが pattern is 有給休暇ゆうきゅうきゅうか申請しんせいをしたいんですが (I would like to apply to use my paid leave).

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Terms and conditions

Sometimes, in order to take advantage of the cheap holidays, you may want to swap the day that you take your holiday with the nationally-designated one. After all, taking the beginning to the end of Golden Week and leaving or coming back a day or two earlier/later can affect the cost of flights or accommodation, and also help you make the most of a break.

In order to change the day you take your leave, you will need to learn the pattern できれば ~たい. This highly useful form is used to make conditional sentences and is roughly equivalent to “If possible, I would like to ~” in English.

A useful phrase is できれば8日に変更へんこうしたいんです。よろしいでしょうか (If possible, I would like to change to the 8th, would this be possible?).

A similar phrase using the できれば ~たい phrase is the pattern. できれば休暇きゅうか使つかいたいんですけどどうすればいいんですか (If possible I would like to use my paid leave, how could I do that?).

When arranging for a vacation, it’s a great time to start practicing your polite Japanese and learning to use words to replace the tones that are often used in English polite forms.

Using these patterns you will be able to plan a nice holiday and get better at the tricky Japanese polite forms. Win-win!

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