People work really hard in Japan. When I was working as a teacher at a major language institute in Japan, I taught 8 lessons, had a meeting for an hour, checked homework for students between classes, and prepared for next day. That was my typical day and I kept that for a few years. When I was working for a marketing company, I worked from noon to 1:00 am almost everyday. I’m one of a guy who puts a lot of time for work but workstyle like this is pretty common in Japan. You need to work a lot to advance and as you get promoted, your responsibility gets heavier and you will have to work even more. I guess this sounds a little awkward for people in western countries where workers in higher positions can have more time and power to ask subordinates to work for you. And it’s sad to say but many people die from working too much. Here’s all about Karoshi and what’s been happening in Japan.
What is Karoshi?
Karoshi (過労死) can be translated as “Overwork death” in Japanese. The major medical causes of it are heart attack and stroke due to stress and a starvation diet. The first case of it was reported in 1969 with the stroke-related death of a man (29 years old worker in the shipping department of a major newspaper company). There had been many cases like this until late 1980s and the Japan Ministry of Labour finally began to publish statistics on Karoshi in 1987. Next year the Labor Force Survey reported that about quarter of male employees worked over 60 hours per week (typical time for work is 40 hours a week). Since then, Japan has been trying to reduce the work hours but 3,970,000 people (6.7% of the population) are still overworking as of 2019 BuzzFeed News .
What is causing it?
Japan’s rise from WW2 and the huge war reparations we paid in the post-war decades are regarded as the trigger for Karoshi. We had no choice but to work really hard to get to the point where we could surpass companies overseas to evolve. As a result, it got more and more competitive within a company as well. Advancement is earned through back-breaking effort so people seldom leave their jobs until late to get the best result and show loyalty to the company.
Is the situation getting better?
Being competitive and productive is important, but now that Japan takes the 3rd largest economy in the world, we have been trying to curb cases of Karoshi through policies. In 2016, the federal government announced its Premium Friday plan with that workers would get the chance to leave at 3pm on the last Friday of each month. And nowadays more young people claim to leave their office without working overtime based on their contracts, so the work environment in Japan is getting better each year. Also, after the spread of coronavirus, more and more people started using hours efficiently working remotely. I hope this will be a way to stop this intense work culture. After all, we only live once and enjoying it is much more important than suffering from it, isn’t it?
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