Japan Australia Pages

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Curse of the Japanese Salaryman

Who wants to work in Japan? The Japanese have a reputation for being one of the world’s hardest workers. They even have a word in Japanese “karoshi” which means “death by overwork”. The Japanese Salaryman often works under sustained stress that involves unpaid overtime and long hours with many of them working themselves to death.

Death is usually caused by a heart attack or stroke. In classic karoshi cases, victims drop at their desks. You might think that this is Only in Japan and classify it as just another culture quirk of the Japanese, but this is now happening beyond Japan. Karoshi exists in Korea, Taiwan, and China. Karoshi emerged in Japan after the country rose from the ashes of the post war slump and edged towards prosperity. As the country’s star rose, so did the number of hours Japanese citizens worked. They became workhorses, clocking in 12 hour days seven days a week.

Why does karoshi still exist today? It still exists today because the culture is stocked by two key dynamics. First is the economic decline, which has fuelled cuts and the second is the exacting practice of Japanese production management or “lean production”. Karoshi looks unlikely to loosen its grip on the Japanese Salaryman any time soon with increased job insecurity, traditions of discipline and devotion to the company still running deep.

Inspired by an article in MyCareer in THE AGE 2011


  1. Not easy to be a Japanese salaryman.

  2. Thanks Lina, Unfortunately, not :( I have worked for several Japanese companies and have seen the long hours and stress first hand. I am worried now for my cousin who has just started to work for a major Japanese company in Kobe.

  3. Yes, my motokare was given the responsibility to start up an industry straightaway, I think the company OWNS him even on the weekends well basically his life. So heartbreaking. But the thing is, they themselves love their job. Can't think of anything else except job job job job job job job job... I believe it has become a chant for them. I hope work and life balance becomes more of a priority, I hate seeing many jisatsu as well as karoushi.

  4. That's the way it is unfortunately and it is drilled into them from an early age. They do need to find a better life balance and spend more time with their family. I have seen families where the children do not even know their father, which is really sad.

  5. This is the #1 reason why I would never want to live (permanently) in Japan.

  6. This is so sad.. They live to work instead of work to live.. Singapore has a similar business culture, where people only go home when the boss leaves the office.

  7. Thanks Daphne, yes totally different from Australia where we work to live. In Japan, I always felt bad when I was the first one to leave the office and others were still there until late night.


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