Miwa Sado, a 31-year-old political reporter for NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting network, died of heart failure in her home in July 2013. She was found in bed by a friend, holding her cell phone.
NHK revealed in an Oct. 4 news story that Sado had worked 159 hours of overtime in the month before her death. During that news broadcast, the network revealed that the death of Sado was attributed to overwork by Investigators from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. In fact, death from overwork is so common in Japan that there is a word for it: “karoshi.”
When asked by the Asahi Shimbun why the announcement of the cause of Sado’s death had been delayed for more than three years, a spokesperson for the network told the news agency that Sado’s family did not want the information made public. “But we decided that we needed to disclose it as we are pushing the program to reform the workplace and a way of working, which was spurred by Sado’s death,” the spokesperson added.
According to a recent government study, one in five Japanese workers is in danger of literally working themselves to death. A YouTube video that has been viewed nearly 1.3 million times depicts a typical work week for many white-collar workers in Japan. Posted by “Stan,” a white-collar worker in Japan’s financial services sector, the video depicts a typical week during the “busy season” for a worker in that sector, which typically includes 13-hour workdays, six days a week, for three or more months straight. According to guidelines set by the Japanese government, a worker who dies following 100 hours of overtime in one month or 80 hours overtime on average over a period of two to six months, meets the standard for determining karoshi as a cause of death.
“[Sado] was under circumstances that she could not secure enough days off due to responsibilities that required her to stay up very late,” a representative from the Shibuya labor office told the Asahi Shimbun. “It can be inferred that she was in a state of accumulated fatigue and chronic sleep deprivation.”
The 2015 suicide death of Matsuri Takahashi, a 24-year-old worker at an advertising agency, was attributed to karoshi when it was determined that she had been forced to work 105 hours of overtime in the month before her death. NHK covered Takahashi’s death, and instituted its own policies regarding overwork, without mentioning the cause of Sado’s death. Sado’s parents began asking the network to inform her colleagues about her death from overwork, eventually requesting it go public with the story.
The reporter who broadcast the story of Sado’s death on Oct. 4 told the audience, “We decided to disclose (her death) to all of our employees and to the public to share the resolve company-wide so as to prevent a recurrence and follow through with the reform.”