Japan has been forced to confront its work culture after it was ruled that the death of a 31-year-old employee had been caused by overwork.

Miwa Sado, who worked for the Japanese broadcasting company NHK, passed away in 2013.

Sado, 31, had worked 159 hours of overtime with only two days off in the one-month period before she died from heart failure. This was the conclusion of a local labour standards office in 2014.

As a political reporter, Sado covered the Tokyo metropolitan assembly elections and national upper house elections in June and July 2013. She died three days after the upper house elections.

A labour standards office in Tokyo later attributed her death to ‘karoshi (death from overwork) but her case was only made public by her former employer this week.

Last year the government released its first white paper on karoshi’ last year, which revealed that one in five employees were at risk of death from overwork.

The whitepaper revealed that more than 2,000 Japanese killed themselves due to work-related stress in the year to March 2016, whilst dozens of other victims died from heart attacks, strokes and other conditions brought on by spending too much time at work.

22.7 per cent of companies polled between December 2015 and January 2016 said some of their employees logged more than 80 hours of overtime each month – the level at which working hours start to pose a serious risk to health.

The announcement comes after the death of a 24-year-old Dentsu employee who died in 2015 after committing suicide.

Matsuri Takahashi put in 100 hours of overtime each month in the nine months she had worked for the advertising agency, triggering a national debate over Japan’s attitude to work-life balance and calls to limit overtime.

The government proposes to cap monthly overtime at 100 hours and introduce penalties for companies that allow their employees to exceed the limit – measures that critics say still put workers at risk.

In February it launched a campaign urging employees to leave early at 3pm on the last Friday of every month, and in May it named and shamed more than 300 companies that had breached labour laws.

Masahiko Yamauchi, a senior official in NHK’s news department, conceded that Sado’s death reflected a

“problem for our organisation as a whole, including the labour system and how elections are covered”.

Yamauchi said NHK had waited three years to make Sado’s death public out of respect for her family, according to Kyodo news.

According to a national survey, a fifth of the country’s workforce are at risk of karoshi, since they clock more than 80 hours extra work time each month.





Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.