Karoshi: Death from Overwork?

Karoshi: Death from Overwork?

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  1.              Death from overwork, or 過労死(karoushi), is not unique to Japan, but it can be a problem especially in times of economic stress. Japanese businessmen, サラリーマン(sarariiman), are typically expected to work long hours, sometimes late into the evening, rarely able to spend significant time with their families. After work, many are expected to accompany bosses and colleagues out drinking, making their return home each night even later.

                Some Japanese businessmen are sent on "unaccompanied job transfers" which involve moving to a different city or even overseas for work, while leaving behind his family. The concept of an "absent father" in Japanese culture often reflects this circumstance, unlike in the U.S. where an "absent father" is typically a "dead-beat dad" who chooses not to participate in his children’s lives or contribute to their upbringing and well-being, financially as well as physically.

                The first reported karoshi case was in 1969. A 29 year old man had worked in the shipping department of a large newspaper company, and after 40 straight days of work he simply collapsed and died of a stroke leaving his wife a widow. In the early 1980s, karoshi was often seen in the form of stroke or heart attack killing an overworked businessman. The poor man would be found slumped over at his desk, or sometimes just collapse dead. In 1994 it was estimated that approximately 1000 people died from karoshi, overwork, about 5% of the cardiovascular deaths in the 25-59 age bracket. In more recent years, the stress from overwork and the constant pressure from Japanese society and superiors throughout a company have led some businessmen to give their own karoshi a little help, in the form of suicide. In 2008, more than 30,000 suicides occurred, and it was estimated that about a third of those were overwork-related.

                Stress, especially from excessive demand and unrealistic expectations on employees, can lead to the development of depression and other mental conditions, which can further lead to a sense of helplessness making death a welcome escape. Families of those businessmen that have committed suicide as a result of stress and emotional disorder caused from overwork have begin to press companies for damages. In 2009, one Japanese company paid nearly one million dollars to the family of such an employee when the court determined his suicide had been from overwork.

                While the older generations, or those raised to maintain the older generations’ beliefs, still work long hours with little sleep and down-time, younger generations are becoming more relaxed, making certain to take time for themselves in the form of social outings with friends, vacations or day trips when they get the chance, and so forth.

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