21 December 2007


Death from overwork in Japan is called karoshi. I sometimes have my students read an article about a Japanese man who worked without a single day off for a whole year and collapsed and later died. The news angle of the article is that his family did not receive death benefits because he had not waited the required three days before dying! Yes, the labor laws in Japan require that before a death can be classified as karoshi, the death cannot occur before three days after the onset of the illness. In other words, no deaths are so classified that occur while actually at the work site or within the three days.

The main point I present to my students is that if a society recognizes a situation in its national vocabulary and labor laws, then it must be a problem and must occur in great numbers (or is thought to).

A larger point is the acknowledged dedication of Japanese workers. A salaryman (the Japanese word) will work long hours and neglect his family. This is a contributing factor to the drastic decline in the Japanese birthrate: Increasing numbers of Japanese women do not marry.

Interesting how social problems are interrelated.

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