‘Work To Death’ Is A Real Thing In Japan: Labor Ministry Recognizes Increasing Suicides Of Overworked Employees As ‘Karoshi’

Japan has officially considered death by overworking in the region’s corporate and manufacturing sector. The country has witnessed a high number of suicides due to the exploitative work culture.

Tokyo Labor Bureau investigators have ruled the death of Matsuri Takahashi as “Karoshi,” which loosely translates to “Death by overwork.” The country has been under local and international criticism for the rampant exploitation of workforce. Takahashi was mere 24-years-old when she leaped to her death from her company dormitory last year on Christmas Day. Her death forced the country to take cognizance of the growing menace of corporations and manufacturing companies exploiting their workforce, and forcing them to work to their deaths, quite literally.

Japan’s Labor Bureau revealed that Takahashi, like hundreds of others, was required to work in excess of 100 hours of overtime per month. Shockingly, the requirement wasn’t during a single month. Many like her are made to put in hundreds of hours of overtime every month. Needless to say, the few workers were overworked, underpaid, and exploited.

Takahashi had considered herself very fortunate to have joined the prominent Dentsu advertising agency, but little did the graduate of a prestigious Tokyo University know what nightmares awaited her at work every day. She was asked to work overtime for months on end, with very little time off, if any. She rarely took a day off and horrifically, slept for as little as two hours at night, before rushing off to work. In order to avoid legal hassles with the country’s Labor Department, Takahashi was ordered by her supervisors to report far fewer hours than she actually spent working at the office.

Takahashi’s situation is far too familiar in Japan’s companies. According to a government report issued last month, employees at nearly one in four companies are at risk of dying from working too many hours, reported USA Today.

While Japanese companies exploit their own young adults, the situation is grimmer for immigrants from developing countries who land in the country looking for work opportunities. Companies employ these skilled people as trainees and use them as cheap labor in manufacturing, processing, and corporate sectors. These workers are forced to clock in several hundred hours each month in overtime. However, since Japan’s labor laws do not permit such practices, the employees are often forced to under-report and many are simply not paid. Appallingly, majority of the workers are paid minimum wage during their arduous tenure, and many send the meager payments back home to their families.

Eventually, quite a few of these overworked and overstressed employees consider taking the drastic step. But since karoshi, or death by overwork, is very difficult to prove, most of the incidents never come up for scrutiny and companies remain free to exploit the people. Human rights groups, both regional and international, have been fighting the exploitation and trying to draw attention to karoshi.

According to official statistics, more than 200,000 people are working in Japan as job trainees, reported Japan Times. Unfortunately, the country is in dire need of young and skilled workforce for its aging population. Hence, instead of clamping down on such exploitative practices, it is quite likely the trainee program could be expanded further. Needless to say, cases of karoshi could rise substantially in the near future as more innocent workforce enters Japan’s work culture that’s vaguely akin to slavery.

Thankfully, Takahashi’s case did alter the government. Labor Ministry inspectors conducted raids on Dentsu’s headquarters in central Tokyo and other sites around Japan. During the raids, officials hoped to find evidence of organized culture of overtime abuse or other labor violations.

Officially the labor Ministry reports just about a 100 suicides that are categorized as karoshi. However, many human rights groups rubbish the official statistics and claim there are hundreds of people who choose death due to overwork.

[Featured Image by Chris McGrath/Getty Images]