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Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Japan's workaholic culture
Tokyo communters
Many workers put in a 12-hour day
By regional analyst Daniel Griffiths

Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's sudden illness has renewed concerns that many people in Japan simply work too hard.

Mr Obuchi was hospitalised after a frenetic few days in which he orchestrated the response to a volcanic eruption on the northern island of Hokkaido.
Mr Obuchi has been under stress recently

He was also dealing with a political crisis which resulted in the Liberal Party defecting from his coalition government.

The possibility that the prime minister's excessive workload brought on a stroke has struck a chord across Japanese society.

A 12-hour day is commonplace in many Japanese companies, with employees often choosing to sleep in company accommodation at work because there is no point in going home.


Large firms demand absolute flexibility from their staff and although most Japanese workers have a holiday entitlement of up to 30 days, many of them only take five or six.

Such an intense work ethic has led to an increasing number of people either dying on the job or committing suicide because of work-related stress.

japanese holidaymakers
Many workers do not take their full holiday
The Japanese call it karoshi - death by overwork.

And with unemployment at record levels, Japanese workers are putting in extra hours to try and hold on to their jobs.

There is minimal social security cover for those without work and many who have lost their jobs or fear being made redundant commit suicide, a fact which pushed the national rate in 1998 to a record 33,000 cases.


In one recent case a worker at a soy sauce factory hanged himself after regularly working 17 hours a day.
Office workers
On the treadmill

Overwork had initially left him so dehydrated that he was put on an intravenous drip at a hospital but he discharged himself because of work commitments.

For the families of the employees who have committed suicide or died at work, claiming compensation for karoshi has been a slow process.

Initially many companies refused to accept the condition existed.

But the Labour Ministry recently issued a new set of guidelines for determining karoshi and speeding up the compensation process, and courts also seem increasingly willing to rule favourably for plaintiffs in karoshi compensation cases.
Mt Usu's eruption had added to Mr Obuchi's workload

But despite these changes, Mr Obuchi's collapse at the weekend is a timely reminder that Japan's workaholic culture is deeply embedded in society.

And with little sign of an end to Japan's recession, it looks like that may continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.

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See also:

04 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese government resigns
02 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Keizo Obuchi
03 Apr 00 | Business
Japan's economy shakes off worries
20 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
Death of the Japanese dream
02 Jul 99 | Asia-Pacific
Japan on suicide alert
30 Jul 99 | The Economy
Japan unemployment record
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