At first, I want to tell you that Japanese hate to work long hours. We like holidays and envy long vacations among many European workers.
However, Japanese workers can take only 5.1 days on average for summer holidays including Saturday and Sunday. Companies give 18 holidays per year but workers take only 8.5 days on average. Why do we work long hours and take short holidays?
I think the reason why is depending on two points as follows:
(1)Companies and workers fear losing jobs
If your client asks your company, "Can you finish this 48-hour job within these two days?", what does your company reply? Maybe all foreign companies don't accept this offer because it is impossible. But some Japanese companies will accept it. For them, it isn't an impossible order – if workers don't take a rest throughout the 48 hours. Such Japanese companies and workers think such work is convinient to their clients, and they try to avoid losing this precious work. If they refuse it, the work will be simply brought to another company which can accept it. And such companies are not rare in Japan.
(2)Mature people should bear hard situations and never complain about them.
If your daughter or son in kindergarten screams "I wanna eat something!" on a train, you say to her or him, "Hold on". Self-control is an expectation for mature people.
Japanese tend to adapt this expectation to the workplace. Refraining from taking holidays and to leaving your office on time are required for you as a mature people. They think that a person who says "I wanna take long holidays" is a child.
Of course, many Japanese workers think that this is an absurd notion. But unfortunately, most people are afraid of their co-workers or bosses thinking they are like children. Conformity is an essential element of our community. So people have a tendency not to take long holidays.
Other reasons: see my past entry "Why do Japanese businesspeople work till late?"