LATE of an evening, Japan’s black-suited salarymen let their hair down in the streets of Shimbashi, a district of Tokyo. Shirts untucked, ties off, liquor flowing, they stagger around before heading home, or directly back to the office via a konbini (convenience store) to buy a clean shirt.

This is the harmless outlet for their stress: karoshi, or death by overwork, is the darker, and until recently, more overlooked one. This month the first ever government report into the scale of karoshi found that employees put in over 80 hours of overtime a month at almost a quarter of companies surveyed. At 12% of those firms the figure rose to a whopping 100 hours. These numbers may underestimate the problem; under a fifth of 10,000 companies contacted responded, which is a normal response rate, but firms with still worse overtime figures may have kept out of the study.

Little wonder that 93 people committed or attempted to commit suicide in the year to the end of March 2015 because of overwork. These are the cases where the government has officially recognised that families are owed compensation;...Continue reading