KAROSHI - Death from Overwork

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KAROSHI - Death from Overwork

Karōshi (pronounced Kah-roe-she), which can be translated quite literally from the Japanese as "death from overwork", is occupational sudden death. The major medical causes of karoshi deaths are heart attack and stroke due to stress.

Usually, Japan's rise from the devastation of World War II to economic prominence in the post-war decades has been regarded as the trigger for what has been called a new epidemic. It was recognized that employees cannot work for up to twelve hours a day six or seven days a week, year after year, without suffering physically as well as mentally

The first case of karoshi was reported in 1969 with the death from a stroke of a 29-year-old married male worker in the shipping department of Japan's largest newspaper company. It was not until the latter part of the 1980s, however, when several high-ranking business executives who were still in their prime years suddenly died without any previous sign of illness, that the media began picking up on what appeared to be a new phenomenon.

This new phenomenon was quickly labelled karoshi, and once it had a name and its symptoms were described and popularized, it was immediately seen as a new and serious menace for people in the work force. In 1987, as public concern increased, the Japanese Ministry of Labor began to publish statistics on karoshi.

According to Labor Ministry statistics there had been only twenty-one case of karoshi in 1987, twenty-nine cases in 1988 and thirty cases in 1989. But a liaison council of attorneys established in 1988 to monitor deaths from overwork estimated in 1990 that over 10,000 people were dying each year from karoshi.

At that time, Hiroshi Kawahito, an attorney who was acting as the secretary-general of the "National Liaison Council of Lawyers...