Weird History Japanese Corporate Culture Is So Brutal They Have A Specific Word For "Death By Overworking"  

Melissa Sartore
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Japanese corporate culture isn't a religion, per se, but some of the repressive and restrictive practices are very similar. Work culture in Japan is defined by specific rules and expectations; Japanese work ethic, called karoshi, drives Japanese workers much like the ascetic tenets of Catholicism, the fundamental traditions of Hasidic Judaism, and the incentive-based beliefs of the Mormon LDS Church. Both Japanese working hours and the overall work culture ethic in Japan are grueling, demanding, and require Japanese business people to devote their lives to their jobs. There are some similarities between Japanese and American business culture, but in either world, "working yourself to death" is a pretty awful concept.

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An Oil Crisis In The 1970s Meant People Were Working Insane Hours For Very Little Money – And The Term "Karoshi" Was Born


In the post-World War II era, Japan established stable, efficient business practices to support its population and bring about economic growth. By the 1970s, workers who were expected to show unquestioning loyalty, dedication, and devotion to their employers were beginning to show signs of what was called "death by overwork" or karoshi

In the midst of an oil crisis in the 1970s, Japanese workers were paid relatively low wages but wanted to make as much money as possible. They worked long, grueling hours and died as a result. This practice became ingrained in Japanese culture throughout the 1980s as Japan rebounded and became a global economic powerhouse. 

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"Death By Overworking" - Is A Goal For Japanese Business People


Karoshi drives Japanese business workers, so much so that "one in five Japanese employees is at risk of death," according to the statistics. Once the concept of karoshi was introduced, it became a competitive expectation in the Japanese workforce. Working until one dies isn't ideal, but it became essential to one's career, pride, and overall reputation to work as much as possible, sacrificing oneself if necessary. During the 1990s, staying at work took on an additional element when layoffs became common. Employees began staying at work to make sure they didn't lose their jobs. When the pressure gets to be too much, employees often commit suicide, leading to greater suicide statistics in Japan than many other nations.

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There Are "Salarywomen" And "Office Ladies"


"Salarymen" are hired right out of high school or college by a company with the understanding that they will work in that position until they retire.

The female counterpart to the "salaryman" is "salarywoman." There are an increasing number of women in the corporate world in Japan working as many, if not more, hours as men. Just like men, women are recruited right after they graduate and given a lifetime position at a company where they must show their devotion by working excessive hours. However, there's a glaring wage gap in Japan that is most certainly a blight on the hard work ethic.

Along with "salarywomen," there are "office ladies" or pink collar workers" in the Japanese business world.  "Office ladies" do clerical work and are not expected to rise on the corporate ladder, but rather are encouraged to start a family and have children by the age of 30. Once they have children, they do not usually return to work. 

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Salarymen Have To Work At Least 80 Hours A Week To Prove Company Loyalty


Overall, the average "salaryman" or woman in business works at least 80 hours a week.  This is as much about company productivity as it is company loyalty. Employees are expected to show his dedication to his job and his employer by working as many hours as possible. Many salarymen work 13-hour days, six days a week, sacrificing their personal and family lives as well as sleep.