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Friday, January 27, 2017

Overworked Woman Commits Suicide

I sat on this story for nearly a month after Matthew sent it to me…

Yet another Japanese junior salary man killing himself from overwork?

Then I realized it was by suicide… and not the more traditional way I had seen in the past involving the worker simply dropping dead from overwork.


Japan has long had a culture whereby everyone (Japanese) in a company is expected to put in hours and hours of unpaid overtime every day as means of showing the bosses that the company comes before everything else in this world.

I always left my school or board of education at the regular non-overtime period when I was a junior high school assistant English teacher because… WTF… I wasn’t Japanese, I don’t believe that work trumps all. Sorry for using that word.

I missed out on a few things, of course… as the company that works together, in long  unpaid overtime, would go out with each other to a local bar and get absolutely piss-faced drunk.

It didn’t matter if you were single, married, male or female… if you were part of the lowly salaryman/office worker at a Japanese company, that was your expected lot until such time that you graduated to middle or upper management… at which point you could still work the extra long unpaid hours every night, but at least you had an office with a door so you could shut it and get a few hours of sleep while those under you pretended to work extra hard.

Crap… I saw guys fall asleep during the day and make up time during the evening, so in my mind it all evened out… but really… just what sort of job demands one work all those extra hours simply because they have to?

Shouldn’t the work simply be done sooner?

What do they do when there’s nothing to do?

Do you carry stuff in your hand, walk around with a scowl on your face and answer people who ask how you are with a simple angry shake of the head and shrug of the shoulders?

On December 25, 2015, the very pretty Takahashi Matsuri (surname first)—that’s her in the framed photo at the top of this blog, with her parents—committed suicide after she had apparently racked up over 150 hours of unpaid overtime in the single month leading up to her death.

So… 150 hours divided by24 days (not including the day she killed herself), implying an average of 6.25 hours of unpaid overtime every single day for 24 days.

That does NOT include any time off for weekends… we’re talking 8 hour work day PLUS 6.25 hours OT  = 14.25 hours a day… for 24 days straight…

Keep in mind the average human being needs anywhere from 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night… that leaves her with 2 to 4 hours a day to have dinner, relax… oh wait… those hours also include travel to and from work… and holy crap… what about that effing team bonding thing…

Look at that poor woman… she would have had to fend of drunk men and women continually.

There was no time to unwind… no time to decompress… it was work, work, work all the time.

Takahasi worked for Japanese advertising company Dentsu

The advertising field is already a crazy field, where the hours are long… and overtime is the norm… and I can only imagine how much more of that it would be in Japan.

For Takahashi… it wasn’t just sitting around doing nothing… it was a punishing and grueling workload… and rather than just quit the job, she chose to quit her life.

We can all say that was stupid… but, if one tries to play devil’s advocate… failing at one’s job in Japan can be a devastating experience.

What is this was the one job she had always wanted… and to quit… it could affect one’s psyche.

My former backyard neighbour… his kid was trying to get in to Dentist’s school, failed to… and he snapped. I was eight when that happened… and all i saw after that was a grinning, drooling poor dumb man who snapped. He never worked… ever… staying with his elderly parents until they died about 40 years later… and… no idea what happened to him.  

He couldn’t speak, except in nodding howls… and I know he could… he was very nice and stable…

As for Takahashi… death by overwork is known as karoshi…. and while her suicide was because of overwork, it’s not the same thing… seppuku… that’s the Japanese word for killing one’s self…  

We do not know the chemical-balanced state of Ms. Takahashi… was there a mental health issue?

Did her suicide really come about because of the anxiety from being overworked? It might not be a chemical imbalance, but it is a mental health issue brought on by her work environment… and that at least is something Japan can fix easier than a chemical imbalance.

I know many people who suffer from some sort of mental health issue, and no, I’m not one of them.

Dentsu president and chief executive officer Ishii Tadashi (surname first) agreed to resign in the wake of Takahashi’s suicide—but this was only after Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare declared that her suicide was caused by overwork.

In my opinion…  the fact that Japan has a federal ministry that covers “Health, Labour and Welfare”… well… that’s a problem right there.

Why should one government agency watch over labour (work) AND health?

Work and welfare… sure… but health?

Not when Japanese culture encourages unpaid overtime… and failure to perform as signs of weakness… of not caring about the work family… the most important family…

I know that Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo has tried to make such unpaid overtime practices illegal… but its still a work in progress… with labor reforms not yet finalized.

Andrew Joseph

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