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Updated: Sep 22, 2019

A shocking phenomenon that kills.

The first case of Karoshi is considered to have been in 1969, when a young employee of the largest Japanese newspaper committed suicide by throwing herself out the window. Because of this occurrence, the CEO of the newspaper resigned. The term Karoshi was created in 1978.

In 1980 there were several deaths of company directors, which drew the attention of the authorities to this phenomenon.

In 1987 the Japanese government began to consider this a serious problem and that they had to do something about it.

On Christmas Day 2015 Karoshi became the international news with the suicide of 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi.

In 2005, 328 Japanese employees died by Karoshi (7 times more than in 2000).

It is estimated that by 2016 the number of suicides will have risen to around 2000. This is a fact that cannot be ignored.

Karoshi means dying by force or excessive working hours. A health problem that leads to heart attacks, depression, stroke, hunger, and suicide. This phenomenon is also widespread throughout Asia, particularly in China and South Korea. In Japan, there are people who work more than 80 overtime hours per month and some up to 100 hours overtime. It is a matter of culture and respect and honour for the employer. If the director of a company does not leave the office, it is almost a shame for the employee to leave his post, whatever the time. A matter of loyalty to your boss and master.

A huge problem for the government, which is trying in some way to counteract this employment policy.

Nowadays, Karoshi leads to the extreme consumption of caffeine, used at 200% in all companies in the country, as well as the abuse of alcohol and drugs.

It is common to see people sleeping on the streets, drunk, in any corner, on the train, everywhere, exhausted and dressed in their work clothes.

There is no class distinction. It occurs in all social classes.

In 2015, the Government recognized 189 deaths.

Noriko Nakahara is a core member of the National Karoshi Association. Her husband jumped of the roof of the Hospital where he worked as Head of Private Hospital Pediatric Department. Another victim of karoshi. She came to the conclusion that the guilt of her husband's death was not exactly the fault of the Hospital, but of the Japanese system itself in general.

The government has proposed new regulations up to a maximum of 100 hours per month, but the fact is that things have not changed much.

The Japanese created the "premium friday's" on February 24th 2017 to minimize the Karoshi. This initiative, (by analogy with Black Friday's), assumes that on Fridays, employees can leave early (by 3:00 pm) and are rewarded for it. They are encouraged to leave the workplace and take a prize to have fun or do whatever they want. However, this measure is still not enough. 1 in 40 Japanese people still work about 20 extra hours after the 40 hours a week required. There is still a lot to do.

Toyota has set a limit of 360 overtime hours per year.

Mitsubishi UFJ & Banking has established a Program that allows employees to leave 3 hours earlier to look after their children and elders. But only 34 out of about 7,000 employees joined the Program. It's a matter of culture and mentality.

The Japanese government recently established 14 days of vacation to celebrate the rise of the New Emperor Naruhito, but even so many people did not consider this a good measure.

But why is Japan working so hard?

One reason is economic growth. Japan after the Second World War had to rebuild the country, the economy. For this it was estimated that workers had to work many hours a day, six or seven days a week, year after year. On average, a Japanese worker works 2 more hours of overtime per day and this work is usually unpaid and without holidays. According to the Labor Survey in 1988, about a quarter of the Japanese male population worked more than 60 hours per week, and in many cases it could reach 90 hours per month. Studies show that Japan may have exceeded 9,000 cases.

At present, many Japanese people are looking for a short-term job in order to achieve a balance between work and family, even though they know that their pay is lower.

How much longer will it take to change this culture of hard work in Japan, China and South Korea?

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