Japan starts weekend early to improve work-life balance

A new initiative to promote a better work-life balance has been introduced in Japan, meaning it was not business as usual for some employees on Friday.

As the clock reached 3pm, about 100 office workers raised champagne glasses in a cafe in the middle of Tokyo's central business district to toast Premium Friday.

Company and government offices were asked to let employees leave at 3pm in what is supposed to become a regular practice on the last Friday of each month.

"This scheme encourages us... to go have a drink or eat or play sports with friends, or spend time with our families," Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike told the workers at the cafe. "I think it will be wonderful if this initiative reforms the way people work."

Bars, restaurants, stores and travel agents are among those hoping it will also stimulate spending by consumers.

For those able to leave the office early, it was a welcome break in a country known for its long working hours.

"It will be good if this will lead to a societal change, even if it is gradual," said Aki Kono, a 46-year-old office worker.


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