Suicide in Japan is often represented with the word ka-ro-shi. The word karoshi has three different words in it: excess (ka), work (ro), and death (shi). Although it may seem like an urban legend, it is a social phenomenon recognized in Japan since 1987, when the Ministry of Health began collecting statistics.
It is so common that if a judge concludes that someone died for karoshi, his family receives compensation of around $20,000 from the government and company payouts of up to $1.6 million.
In 2015, 2,310 victims of karoshi committed suicide, according to the Ministry of Labor in Japan. According to the National Council in Defense of the Victims of Karoshi, the true number can reach 10,000 annual victims.
When the Japanese economy crashed in the early 1990s, the culture of overwork worsened even more. In the following years, known as the “lost decade”, and the karoshi reached epidemic proportions.
Death from overwork —or karoshi— is the consequence of stress, depression, chronic anxiety, and mental disorders. The Japanese work culture is the main reason why so many people commit suicide in the Asian country.
If you work in Japan and have an indefinite contract —or lifetime contract, as it is called in Japan— your life is basically owned by your employer. There’s no workday, you have to work extra hours for free, probably they need you to work on a Saturday or a Sunday, when you are sick you must go to your workplace or you face to lose your honor and even though you are not really being productive, if you prove to your superiors that you are willing to do anything for the company, even if that means working poorly for 13 or 14 hours, your company will love you.
These are the seven jobs with the highest suicide rates in Japan:
TOP 1: Young teachers and nurses
Teachers and nurses have the highest suicide rates in Japan. Commonly, they are recent graduates who work in big companies, have a strong sacrifice attitude and they can’t choose another job.
In a society in which hierarchy and authority are so important, young workers are usually given the least desirable tasks, but when you are young in Japan it doesn’t matter how trained you are. People who have been working in the same company for many years will always be more powerful than you.
In Japan, if you quit your job, you will be seen as a weak person who doesn’t work hard enough. Not only by your employer or future employers, but also by your family, wife or friends.
Kira Sensei, a Spanish YouTuber who lives in Japan since 2006 working as a language teacher said in one of his videos: “One day I was at home vomiting and I had diarrhea, basically I couldn’t move. I told my company that I was not able to go to work. Everything was done according to their own rules, so I thought nothing would happen. The next day I called to see if everything was fine and I found out that they had canceled every one of my future classes. The boss thought it was a betrayal to the company to say that I couldn’t go to work, so they punished me.”
TOP 2: Young public workers
Public workers usually have the best benefits, a job they can’t be fired from, and they don’t have to pay any medical insurance… But when you are a ko-mu-in,you belong to the Japanese government. You are basically its toy.
Endless workdays, be responsible for things that are not part of your job and usually, between Japanese people, a lot of sacrifices in a country where sacrifice is more important than your family, your personal life or even your own health.
In America, sacrifice is a way to get something, but in Japan, it is the ultimate goal. If you work so hard you suffer from it, you are a very respectable man.
TOP 3: Workers in restaurant franchises
Waiters in Japan are frequently young people who didn’t go to college and didn’t continue studying after high-school, they lack opportunities in their country and they are very lucky if they get a job.
The biggest the company is or the food-chain is, the worse conditions those waiters are going to have.
TOP 4: Anime illustrators
Anime illustrators are often outsourced, but if they say no to some requested jobs by any anime big company it could mean they will not be hired in the future.
Support society for homeless illustrators: http://www.animator.main.jp
TOP 5: Advertising companies
Again we can find the same profile, recent graduates who work incessantly and sacrifice their personal lives to learn as much as they can due to their lack of knowledge when they finish college.
Takahashi Matsuri, employed by Dentsu until 2016, committed suicide when she was 25 years old because of karoshi —overwork—.
Takahashi committed suicide a few months after entering Dentsu, where she worked up to 105 extra hours a month. The girl’s family reported that the company had forced her to write down fewer hours than actually worked. Her record showed that she worked 69.9 hours per month, within the 70 allowed, when the true number was much higher.
TOP 6: Truck drivers
They don’t have an office or work schedules and commonly, they live in their trucks, they don’t have a house. Truck drivers in Japan have to live on the road if they want to keep their jobs.
TOP 7: Construction workers
Construction workers in Japan don’t rest. The only days the can stay at home is because there is a storm and they can’t work at all as a group.
Lack of staff and high demands by their employees make Japanese construction workers one of the jobs with the highest suicide rates. As there are not enough workers, if one of them can’t go to work for any reason, it is seen as a betrayal to the group. Missing a workday could mean losing your job forever.