THE KAROSHI 過労死 PRESS REVIEW by Olga ALEXANDROWICZ - 25 january 2017

"Japanese government tells people to stop overworking to combat death from excessive hours” was writTEN by Katie Forster in 2017 in THE INDEPENDENT, a British online national morning quality newspaper.

Karōshi is a Japanese word meaning “death from overwork” and the official cause is most often heart attack, stroke or suicide.

This phenomenon was first identified in Japan in 1969 when a 29-year-old man in the shipping department of a newspaper died of stroke. Karōshi became more common among executives in the late 1980s. Hundreds of workers a year are officially identified as karōshi victims, although the unofficial total is thought to number in the thousands. In 1982, three Japanese doctors published a book entitled “Karōshi” that noted many victims of overworking and included research into their deaths. The victims were young men that were otherwise healthy, but worked more than 60 hours a week on average and had died on the job from heart attacks and strokes. Between the mid-1940s and the mid-1970s, a disproportionate number of Japanese men in their thirties and forties were dying on the job of cardiovascular problems.
Suicides evolution in Japan (since 1978)
This concept became increasingly recognized as a result of traditional corporate cultures, which tend to emphasize a clear and immediate path to profitability. The fact that companies frequently reduce the size of their staff as a means of increasing profits can lead to stress, employee churn and burnout.
WHY DO JAPANESE ARE WORKING THEMSELVES TO DEATH?
The answer can be justified by the economic bubble burst Japan had to face in the early 1990s when the nation’s economy has been stagnant and companies have had to reduce their costs. Many companies cut their numbers of full-time, fired employees and replacing them with workers on temporary contracts. As a result, salaried workers feel pressure to work harder and put in more hours just to safeguard their positions. The problem is that companies can get around laws by signing agreements with workers and unions.
A photo of Matsuri Takahashi
Takahashi’s case has struck a nerve in Japan. MATSURI TAKAHASHI was a 24-year-old and graduate of prestigious Tokyo University, pressured to work long, hard hours beyond what she could tolerate at Dentsu, the largest advertising agency in Japan, jumped from her third-floor dorm room on Christmas Day of 2015. She often got as little as two hours of sleep a night, rarely had a day off and was ordered by supervisors to report fewer hours than she actually worked.
Dentsu first placed Matsuri in the internet advertising division, where she basically dealt with banner ads. Over the next six months, however, the firm shrank the number of employees in that division from 14 to six. But the workload didn’t shrink. Matsuri started clocking over 100 hours of overtime a month.
Matsuri was also bullied by her boss and she tweeted the verbal abused dished out by him. Even if Matsuri didn’t work in a factory in the inhuman environment of the prewar era, she was forced to work in a way that denied her human rights, with her male boss ordering her to smile her way through it and stay feminine and pretty because she was a woman.
She chronicled her growing fatigue on Twitter
“My boss told me the documents I wrote after coming back from vacation were s—-. I’m mentally and physically devastated.”
“They decided again I’ll have to work Saturdays and Sundays. I seriously just want to end it all.”
“It’s 4 o’clock. My body is trembling … I just can’t do this. I’m gonna die. I’m so tired.”
“I have lost all feeling except the desire to sleep.”
“Every night I can’t sleep because I’m terrified of tomorrow arriving.”
“Perhaps death is a much happier option.”
Some solutions HAVE BEEN implementED to deal with the problem
In 2015, the government launched a new law which ask the Japanese companies to decrease overwork hours and that they must make good workplaces where employees can continue their work while keeping their healthy body.
ON 24TH of Febuary, the Japanese government and participating business groups will launch the "Premium Friday" campaign to let people leave the office a couple of hours early, the last Friday of each month. This project is a good way to reduce extra hours but the problem is that the scheme is not mandatory, either, so it is unclear how many enterprises will actually take part. The Japan Business Federation has encouraged its members to sign up, but they only comprise 1,300 companies whereas over 2.5 million businesses are registered in Japan according to figures from 2006.
Finally, Japan Post Insurance has come up with the very clever solution of turning off the lights in its headquarters at 7:30 p.m., forcing workers to go home or TO work in the dark. Denstu says it is also trying to prevent overwork, go AS far as to turn off lights in its headquarters after 10pm.
To find a solution, Japan’s Labor Standards Law mandated a 40-hour workweek and a maximum of 15 hours of weekly overtime. But the law effectively allows unlimited overtime if there is a written agreement between a company and its labor union (unions in Japan generally are organized at individual companies, rather than across industries or trades).
At Dentsu and many other companies, much overtime routinely goes unreported, labour officials say. And this was not the first such case at Dentsu. The 1991 suicide of a 24-year-old worker at company headquarters in Tokyo was among the first to focus national attention on the problem of karōshi.
A Cabinet Office report issued last month found that employees IN 23% of Japanese companies worked 80 hours or more of overtime per month last year. That’s the threshold at which the risk of death from physical or psychological causes is significant, according to the report.

As a conclusion, the most important issue confronting the Japanese workplace today is the need to change the present conception of labour.

In order to bring about economic democracy in Japan, working hours need to be reduced and the incidence of Karōshi eliminated.
A certain degree of international pressure calling for "fair competition in the world market" might be welcomed for this purpose.
However, outside pressures often create nationalistic reactions from within the country.
The undertaking of an ergo logical study into Japanese working conditions and the promotion of increased free time are two possible vehicles that may be used to change the current conception of labour.

Thank you for the reading, I hope you had a good time.

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