Many Japanese words enter the English dictionary due to the highly advanced technology, superior taste in culinary and architecture, as well as the influential trends of fashion in Japan. It is no wonder non-Japanese know words like sushi, futon, judo, karaoke and purikura and even use them in their daily lives. One of the few words with a negative connotation that has entered the English dictionary is karoshi (過労死) which means dying from overwork.
The image of Japanese people usually includes words like hardworking and loyal, thanks to the legends created by the patriotic salaryman who support the country’s economy with their lives, literally.
Working overtime is not only considered normal, but seen as obligatory to show your loyalty and positive attitude to the company. More than one quarter of Japanese employees work more than 50 hours per week, and many do not even get paid for it.
The term “work-life-balance” does not seem to exist in their dictionaries. Even after work, the employees are usually obliged to accompany their bosses for drinks till the last train, as they go back home dead beat and totally intoxicated, only to wake up early the next morning to go for work.
Not only do the Japanese diehard salaryman not complain about doing free overtime work, many do not even take the leave given to them. It is normal to have 14 days of leave a year, but you might be frowned upon if you take all your leave, leaving you to be condemned by the rest of your company.
Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking had a family-support program that allows employees to leave three hours earlier to take care of their family. An astounding 34 out of the 7000 employees actually applied for it. Imagine how the 34 of them felt.
And so the term karoshi came about in 1969 as people started thinking of ways of remedy. One idea came up, but not only did it solve the problem, it made the whole reality sound like a parody.
Mega companies such as Panasonic and Kubota have built corporate graveyards for their employees who passed away (be it from karoshi or not). Maybe they did not want their dead employees to feel guilty for not working harder; they would bury them with the company’s soul and spirit, together with their buddies who would die for their companies, literally.