TOKYO:-  Japan’s Prime Minister spent Friday afternoon meditating while staff at some of the country’s biggest firms quit work early - in time for a bit of shopping or maybe a boozy train ride. Welcome to Premium Friday, Japan’s latest bid to tackle two perennial problems - sluggish consumer spending and notoriously long working hours blamed for a national health crisis known as karoshi, or death from overwork. The new work-life balance scheme, which launched this week, calls on employers to let staff off around 3:00 pm on the last Friday of every month. Major firms including automakers Nissan and Toyota, beverage giant Suntory and brokerage Nomura are taking part in the government-backed initiative.–AFP

 But it’s not mandatory and many companies have opted out, while some analysts question whether it will really boost spending or do much to change Japan’s punishing work culture.