Japan, give us a break!

Time after time I’ve been in offices here where people feel under pressure not to take time off, for lunches or anything else.

According to a report by Harris Interactive this year, Japanese workers took off an average of 9.3 of their 16.6 legally mandated vacation days.

As anyone who works here knows, even that remarkable statistic hides a lot of pain. Most office workers contribute dozens of hours per month in unpaid overtime. Many don’t get proper dinner breaks and toil away into the evening. More than once I’ve seen friends arrive at 9 p.m. and congratulate themselves on getting home early.

Is it because everyone is so busy they can’t afford time off? Of course not — productivity in Japanese offices is low. Most people could easily do the work they’re assigned in half the time.

The really distressing thing is that bosses don’t even have to demand this masochistic behavior from employees here — workers police themselves.

Reformers in Britain and elsewhere discovered over a century ago that happy employees are motivated, productive employees.

Economists say one of Japan’s biggest structural problems is chronic underconsumption, in part because millions of workers have so little opportunity to spend their hard-earned cash.

And one more thing: Giving reasonable working hours to men and women would give them more time to meet, fall in love and rescue Japan from its marriage and fertility crisis.