The Japanese may finally get to spend less time at work, but that doesn't mean they'll use it for shopping.
The government is taking aim at the workforce's reputation for long hours, proposing fresh legislation limiting overtime, potentially to 45 to 60 hours a month.
That comes after the release in October of the government's first study on karoshi, or death by overwork, finding that workers at 12 percent of companies work more than 100 hours of overtime monthly and 23 percent of companies have workers putting in more than 80 hours of overtime monthly.
But skepticism abounds that even workers who might gain as much as an additional 60 hours a month of leisure will use that time to consume more or help bolster a sluggish economy.
Kwok Chern-Yeh, head of Japanese equities at Aberdeen Asset Management, said via email recently that the actual proposals appeared watered down and he didn't expect much positive economic impact.
"Even if the Japanese work less, it won't improve spending," he said. "Quite the opposite, it will mean less pay at a time when wages are stagnant and purchasing power is being eroded by a weak yen. Added to this is a looming shortage of labor."
In a report last month, Deutsche Bank came to a similar conclusion, cutting its economic growth forecasts for Japan to 1 percent in 2017 and 1.1 percent in 2018, from 1.1 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively.
The bank expected the decline in working hours would hurt household income and spending, spurring a negative feedback loop as corporate sales and profits also fall.
Deutsche Bank didn't expect the extra free time would spur more consumption.
That would echo the experience in South Korea, which phased in a shift to a five-day workweek, down from six, starting from 2002.