【Death from overwork】Why do the Japanese work such long hours?


“From burned ruins to economic superpower.”  Japan was a scorched plain at the end of World War ll, and the startling economic growth that it achieved in such a short time is nothing less than a miracle.

Whereas Japan’s economy was once so weak that it was often said that “when America sneezes, Japan catches cold,” the Japanese economy today ranks alongside that of America and the European Union in terms of its impact on the world economy.


In this section, we will focus on working conditions, life styles of workers, and changes in worker attitudes. We’ll give special attention to the long working hours of Japanese workers – a fact which draws criticism from the West.

For example, the Japanese usually work about 60 more days a year than the Germans.



Actually, these figures don’t cover overtime work without pay and working on days off. Nor does it include hours spent entertaining clients by taking them to play golf and such. So Japanese working hours are higher than the figures actually show.




What is “overtime without pay”?

Employees often report a lower number of overtime hours than those actually worked, and they are not paid for these hours. If you add in the long commuting times, this makes a long working day.

The word “karoshi”, or “death from overworking,” has been in the newspapers a lot. “Karoshi” is said to be caused by working too much. The long working hours come at the expense of family life and also damage health.





Why do the Japanese work such long hours?

There are several reasons. Many companies don’t hire new regular employees when business is good, because they can’t dismiss workers when business declines. Inevitably, companies turn to part-time or temporary workers, but even then, regular employees are required to work harder and longer.

Because job changing is not common under the lifetime employment practice, the individual is in a much weaker position than the company, so the employee has to abide by the company’s instructions. Yet, because of this lifetime employment system, the individual can feel secure about his job.




Though it is often said that the Japanese work too much, reducing working hours has been a hot topic.

One reason is criticism from abroad. The international community claims it’s not fair to work longer hours to produce cheap goods while other workers are resting. Another reason that the reduction of working hours has been in the news is the trend toward placing greater emphasis on one’s personal life.

Economically, Japan has one of the highest standards of living in the world. Despite this economic prosperity, the Japanese don’t feel this wealth in their personal lives. One major factor in this is the long working hours.




How do young people feel about these long working hours?

An increasing number of people, mostly younger, are demanding better working conditions and changing jobs accordingly.

This is part of the trend toward placing greater value on private lives. Now companies have to create an attractive working environment, with shorter working hours, to secure competent personnel.




1. Reduced productivity

Long work hours are often counterproductive.If you consistently work long hours, you get burned out and inevitably start falling behind in your duties. Productivity declines and you have to spend more hours trying to catch up on neglected tasks.

2. Increased fatigue

Fatigue sets in when you work extended hours over a long period of time. Symptoms of fatigue from extended workdays include sleepiness, weariness, poor concentration, irritability and increased susceptibility to illness. These symptoms are a big hindrance to productivity. If you don’t stop and rest from work, fatigue will increase and become overwhelming.

3. Higher safety risks

When fatigue increases and you become overwhelmed from long workdays, your safety is at risk. Accidents and injuries are more likely to occur in the workplace. This safety hazard, while difficult to clearly support with scientific evidence because fatigue levels are not easy to measure and quantify, is a logical concern that you should not ignore.

4. Neglected social life

You will find it difficult to maintain a healthy social life when you work 60 or more hours a week. Free time to spend with family and close friends is not adequate with this work schedule. Extended work hours can also reduce the quality of your life by conflicting with quality time for family and time for other responsibilities and needs outside work. Stop working long hours and get a life outside of work.

5. More stress

Odds are when you work long hours you are doing it at the expense of not only your family and close friends, but also your diet, exercise routine and sanity. The more you try to prove you are a passionate and productive team player at work, the more you get forgotten by your kids, spouse and dog; and the more your mind registers stress.

6. Musculoskeletal damage

Repetitive work when sustained in awkward postures increases the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that damage the body’s muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and nerves. Avoid extended work hours to give your body sufficient time to recover and repair itself each day, otherwise your muscles might just buckle under work pressure.

7. Ergonomic hazards

Depending on where you work, lengthened work hours can expose you to serious ergonomic hazards like chemicals, radiation, vibration, noise, and extreme temperatures. Exposure to these ergonomic hazards can have serious health implications that you are better off avoiding by shortening your workday.

8. Heart attack

The risk of heart disease increases markedly by 67% for people who work long hours compared to people who work the standard 7-8 hours a day, according to some reports.

9. Brain damage

Middle-aged workers who clock upwards of 55 hours a week have poorer mental skills, including short-term memory and reduced ability to recall words, than those who work fewer than 41 hours. The study suggests that prolonged time at work can cause long-term brain damage or dementia. It is not clear why working long hours has an adverse effect on the brain, but this study should give pause for thought to workaholics.

10. Risk of obesity

Demanding work schedules can contribute to obesity. “Extended work hours may reduce the time spent preparing home-cooked meals, exercising and sleeping, which are risk factors for obesity.”

Admittedly, some of these associations between extended work hours, health and safety concerns are not conclusive. However, getting off the 40-plus-hour-a-week treadmill now is definitely a better habit for your overall well-being and productivity.



Don’t work longer anymore😃