The following is my essay that I wrote as an assignment for an English school AEON:
Topic: How do you feel about working conditions in Japan?
(Please note that I am entitled to work as a consultant for Labor and Social Security issues since I passed the examination of Sharoshi in 2010. Labor problems are a part of my specialty.)
On December 25, 2015, on Christmas day, Matsuri Takahashi, a 24-year-old lady working at Dentsu, one of the biggest advertising agencies in Japan, committed suicide because of too much time spent working at the company. Such death is called “Karoshi” (overwork death) in Japan. Very surprisingly, this is the second time Dentsu forced one of their employees to commit suicide. The first incident happened in August 1991, and a 24-year-old (the same age as Ms. Takahashi, very coincidentally) man committed suicide because of too much working time (it reached more than 300 hours monthly). The word “Karoshi” was coined because of this former incident and it was the first case that Supreme court acknowledged the responsibility of the company for the management of long working hours expected of its employees. Dentsu eventually paid 168 Million Yen ($1.5 Million) to the bereaved family. That high amount of money, however, was not enough for the company to change the working “culture” in it and it repeated the unhappy incident again 24 years after the first one.
We can see some characteristics in these incidents of Dentsu company:
(1) Working so long is quite normal in the company. There are few people in the company who see the situation abnormal and try to change it.
(2) New hires tend to become victims of this forced long working hours.
(3) It is difficult to see that the company tried to evaluate its employees by their productivity.
Dentsu is just the tip of the big iceberg, and there are tens of thousands of companies who are akin to Dentsu. While many workers are spending so many hours in their offices, the labor productivity in Japan is quite low, alleged to be around two thirds compared to the ones in Germany or in France. It is the lowest among G7 countries.
It took more than 100 years for workers in Europe to win “an 8-hour workday” since Robert Owen first insisted it in 1817. It is crucial for most office workers in Japan to keep good work life balance and to strive for a better ability utilizing free time in order to survive in the era of AI and robots.