Japanese Employees Are Literally Dying From Being Overworked

Experts believe thousands of Japanese employees have died from “karoshi.” or death by overwork, last year. Labor ministry figures documented only 189 cases.

Japan has an unforgiving job culture that glues workers to overtime hours, which may include social time with superiors. Even worse, these hours are rendered for free.


According to the Washington Post, karoshi can result from a heart attacks, strokes or even suicide triggered by overworking. Koji Morioka, professor from Kansai University, told the Post:

“In a Japanese workplace, overtime work is always there. It’s almost as if it is part of scheduled working hours. It’s not forced by anyone, but workers feel it like it’s compulsory.”


Karoshi is often seen among males, but it is now found to increase among females. Victims are often in their 20s. Any family left behind are entitled to compensation, but most who apply for it end up unsuccessful.

Japan’s trend of working more hours kicked off in the 1970’s as an attempt to maximize earnings. Unfortunately, it remained to this date as a problematic norm. Standard work hours is 40 in a week, but many employees endure more hours to ensure job security.

Unethical employers are believed to run a “bait-and-switch” system, which attracts applicants by advertising full-time positions with sensible work hours. Once successful, a candidate is given an irregular contract that carries longer work hours.

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Japan has a National Defense Counsel for Victims of Karoshi, but its secretary general, Hiroshi Kawahito, said the government lacks effort. He previously told Reuters:

“The government hosts a lot of symposiums and makes posters about the problem, but this is propaganda. The real problem is reducing working hours, and the government is not doing enough.”

Karoshi is only one of Japan’s issues related to its workforce. At this point, it has labor shortages caused by an aging population, gap in skills and immigration curbs, Wall Street Journal noted.

What do you think about Japan’s obsession with work?


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