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In its October 5, 2017 edition, the New York Times reported on an alarming development in some Japanese workplaces: “karoshi,” which translates to “death from overwork.” First emerging in the production boom of the 1980’s,karoshi initially affected blue-collar workers disproportionately, as employees in manufacturing industries pushed themselves to dangerous levels of fatigue by way of inordinately high overtime hours per month. Over the past three decades, the tendency to forego sleep, work on weekends, and bypass holiday leave in an effort to clock ever higher numbers of overtime hours has seeped into the white collar realm.
The reporting was based around the recent disclosure of the 2013 death of Miwa Sado, a journalist at NHK, Japan’s premiere broadcasting company. Sado clocked 159 hours of overtime in one month before passing away of congestive heart failure at age 31. Following a government investigation, it was determined that Ms. Sado’s death was directly attributable to her work schedule, which produced persistent fatigue and chronic sleep deprivation.
For many Japanese workers, especially those employed by prestigious companies, exhaustion by way of overwork is a sign of one’s commitment to an employer. Karoshi can sometimes require employees to continue working after the end of shift by entertaining business clients well into the evening. Workers under the age of 35 were found to be particularly susceptible to the alarming phenomenon, according to the Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training.