The death of a young journalist in Japan is being pointed to as the latest high-profile example of karoshi, or “death from overwork.”
Miwa Sado, a 31-year-old woman working at Japan’s state-run broadcaster NHK in Tokyo, died of congestive heart failure in July 2013, The Japan Times reported.
A year after her death, an investigation by the Shibuya Labor Standards Inspection Office found that Sado’s death was a direct result of overwork — the woman clocking 159 hours of overtime over the course of a month, according to NHK, while working days, nights and weekends to cover two local elections in Tokyo.
“She was under circumstances that she could not secure enough days off due to responsibilities that required her to stay up very late,” the labor office said in a statement to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper — describing Sado as being “in a state of accumulated fatigue and chronic sleep deprivation” at the time of her death.
Back then, NHK had kept details of Sado’s death quiet out of respect for her family, The New York Times reported. But now, four years later, they’re telling her story while announcing planned workplace changes.
“We decided to disclose her death to all of our employees and to the public to share the company’s resolve to prevent a recurrence and follow through with reforms,” NHK said.
Cases of karoshi were rampant in Japan in the late 1980s, The Times reported, and have remained a problem for everyone from blue-collar employees to white-collar executives. In 2016, nearly a quarter of companies surveyed said that some of their employees had put in more than 80 hours of overtime a month.
One of the most headline-grabbing examples was that of 24-year-old Dentsu advertising executive Matsuri Takahashi, who died via suicide after jumping from the roof of an employee dormitory, The Times reported.
At the time of her death, Takahashi had amassed 100 hours of OT a month, The Guardian reported.
Weeks earlier, Takahashi posted a chilling message on social media, The Guardian added. “I want to die,” she wrote. “I’m physically and mentally shattered.”
Takahashi and Sado are just two examples. According to the Japanese government, one in five workers are at risk from working themselves to death, The Guardian reported. More than 2,000 people killed themselves in Japan last year due to work-related stress. Dozens of other victims died from other conditions related to spending too much time at work, like heart attacks and strokes.
In response, the Japanese government has proposed to cap monthly OT at 100 hours, The Guardian reported. They will also be penalizing companies that allow their workers to go over that.
In February, the Japanese government also introduced an effort to encourage companies to allow workers to leave their office at 3 p.m. on the last Friday of the month, The Independent reported. Only a small number of companies have participated so far — one being the Keidanren, Japan’s largest business group.
For Sado’s parents, they’re just hoping a tragedy like what happened to their daughter doesn’t happen again.
“Even today, four years after, we cannot accept our daughter’s death as a reality,” they said in a statement to NHK. “We hope that the sorrow of the bereaved family will never be wasted.”
Sado’s parents also criticized NHK, claiming the company hadn’t disseminating news of their daughter’s death throughout the company and questioning why the company had not limited their daughter’s working hours, The Times reported.
“It is an abnormal work situation to work almost every day on Saturday and Sunday, working until late at night every day, so we cannot understand why such a situation was overlooked,” they said in a statement published by the Asahi Shimbun on Thursday, The Times reported.