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Karoshi (過労死, karōshi) (pronounced /karo:ʃi/), which can be translated quite literally from the Japanese as "death from overwork", is occupational sudden death. The major medical causes of karoshi deaths are heart attack and stroke due to stress. This term has special significance in Japanese culture due to historical traditions of seppuku.
The first case of karoshi was reported in 1969 with the death from a stroke of a 29-year-old married male worker in the shipping department of Japan's largest newspaper company. It was not until the latter part of the 1980s, during the Japanese_asset_price_bubble however, when several high-ranking business executives who were still in their prime years suddenly died without any previous sign of illness, that the media began picking up on what appeared to be a new phenomenon. This new phenomenon was quickly labelled karoshi, and once it had a name and its symptoms were described and popularized, it was immediately seen as a new and serious menace for people in the work force. In 1987, as public concern increased, the Japanese Ministry of Labour began to publish statistics on karōshi.
Usually, Japan's rise from the devastation of World War II to economic prominence in the post-war decades has been regarded as the trigger for what has been called a new epidemic. It was recognized that employees cannot work for up to twelve hours a day six or seven days a week, year after year, without suffering physically as well as mentally. In a recent measurement it was found that a Japanese worker has approximately two hours overtime a day on average. In almost all cases the overtime is unpaid. The recent international expansion of Japanese multinationals has also led to an export of the Karoshi culture to countries such as China, Korea and Taiwan.
Meanwhile, death-by-overwork lawsuits have been on the rise in Japan, with the deceased person's relatives demanding compensation payments. However, before compensation can be awarded, the labour inspection office must acknowledge that the death was work-related. As this may take many years in detailed and time consuming judicial hearings many do not demand payment. Others do not know that payment for Karōshi related death can be demanded from the government.
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