There's a serious problem in Japan's work culture that Americans might recognize.
In 2013, Miwa Sado, a reporter for NHK, a Japanese public broadcasting network, died of congestive heart failure at just 31 years of age. Four years later, NHK has admitted she died of “karoshi,” a Japanese term meaning “overwork exhaustion.”
In the month before her death, Sado had only taken two days off while working 159 hours of overtime. “I want to die,” she wrote on social media shortly before her passing. “I’m physically and mentally shattered.”
Although it’s tough to tell just how many people die in Japan every year due to overwork, the number of lawsuits filed claiming death by karoshi hit an all-time high of 1,456 last year. Another telling statistic is the country’s suicide rate. Last July, GOOD reported that Japan’s culture of overwork has led to the highest suicide rate among the world’s leading industrial nations.
Miwa Sado. Image via ANNnewsCH/YouTube.
The Japanese government is taking steps to help curb the karoshi death rate. Lawmakers are creating a plan that prevents employees from working over 100 overtime hours a month. Last May, the labor ministry released a list of 300 companies guilty of illegal overtime and other workplace violations.
Sado’s family hopes measures like these will prevent more tragedies to come. “Even today, four years after, we cannot accept our daughter’s death as a reality,” her parents said in a statement. “We hope that the sorrow of the bereaved family will never be wasted.”
NHK is now taking steps to prevent further deaths from overwork by reducing its staff’s hours. The broadcasting network says it released the cause of Sado’s death in part to prevent it from happening in the future. “We refrained from making [Sado’s death] public because the bereaved family initially indicated that they preferred it that way,” said a spokesman. “But we decided that we needed to disclose it as we are pushing the program to reform the workplace and a way of working, which was spurred by Sado’s death.”