Japan's "Golden Week" holiday, extended to 10 days this year to celebrate the imperial succession, has left in limbo those working parents who are unable to take the whole time off, as most nurseries and kindergartens will be closed.
Scheduled to begin Saturday, April 27, and run through Monday, May 6, people working in medical and nursing care services, tourism staff and beauticians, among others, will in many cases have to work right through the break.
While the government seems to have decreed the holiday without giving much thought to the issue, some municipalities are scrambling to assess the feasibility of making extra provision for the holiday.
"It looks like I'll have to work since it will be a busy period," said a 36-year-old female employee of an accounting office in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. Her husband is also expected to work.
The nursery school the couple uses for their 4-year-old daughter plans to close for the entire holiday period.
"Small companies can't afford to close for 10 straight days. The government should have been more considerate of working people who leave their children with others, when it decided to create the extended holiday. The feeling is it made light of the situation as if to say, 'Someone will do something'," the woman said.
The Diet passed a bill in December to designate May 1, when Crown Prince Naruhito, 58, ascends the imperial throne, a one-off national holiday.
With April 29 and May 3-6 already assigned as national or public holidays in 2019, April 30 and May 2 then became public holidays as Japanese law stipulates that any weekday sandwiched by national holidays itself becomes a holiday.
Complaints about this year's "Golden Week" have been growing on the internet. Some say they are unable to leave children with their grandparents because they also work, or live too far away.
Some childcare centers and kindergartens open on Saturdays but close on Sundays and holidays.
Although some local governments will take children at designated childcare centers specifically open during the long holiday if booked in advance, the number of available staff is limited.
The committees in both houses of the Diet, which deliberated the bill to create the 10-day holiday, adopted an additional resolution urging the government to "take all possible measures to avoid any trouble in the life of the people," including childcare services.
But an official in charge at the Cabinet Office said, "It's difficult for the government to introduce unified countermeasures."
As municipal governments are responsible for overseeing authorized childcare centers, the official said, local governments should devise their own solutions.
But an official in the municipal government of Kumamoto, southwestern Japan, said, "Nothing really has been decided by us. It would help if the government laid out a course of action."
Some other local authorities, including Tokyo's Toshima Ward, are considering the expansion of temporary services.
While more than 5,000 children are routinely looked after at day-care centers in Toshima Ward, only 40 are accepted during the holiday. "We are studying if we can open more facilities as an exception" during the 10-day holiday, a Toshima official said.
A key question is whether enough childcare workers can be procured. A social welfare corporation operating authorized childcare centers across Japan is set to accept children, if requested, during the period. "We have to manage somehow," said an official.
Mika Ikemoto, a senior researcher at the Japan Research Institute, said the central government should "proactively" adopt countermeasures in cooperation with local governments "without leaving the matter to parents and care facilities."