Japan Working Overtime, With Serious Consequences

Lying down on her bed, four days after death, she was found with her hands still clenched tightly around a mobile phone – her means of contacting her company. The young female reporter of NHK (Japan’s national public broadcasting organization) was found dead in July of 2013. The next year, after careful examination of her death, medical experts affirmed that it was caused by karoshi, a Japanese word used to describe death by overwork. However, NHK did not admit this reason until October 2017, four years after the death of the young reporter.

The reporter was Miwa Sado, only 31 years old at the time of her death and in her ninth year of work for NHK. Her death was tremendously influential to the Japanese, because of the staggering statistics that she worked as long as 159 hours overtime in a month-long period with only two days off. This dedication resulted in congestive heart failure.

This is not the only case of death caused by intense work in Japan. In December 2015, Dentsu employee Matsuri Takahashi committed suicide because of the large amount of work her company imposed on its staff.

It was a full four years until NHK finally disclosed this information to the public, which produced a very strong response. Karoshi cases are actually quite common in Japan. In a survey conducted in 2016, 23% of the companies that responded admitted that their employees had at times over 80 hours of overtime work in a month. Moreover, there were 93 cases of suicide due to excessive workloads. Employers and even school administrators are beginning to respond more actively to the growing problems posed by overwork.