Japanese CEO Quits After Overworked Employee's Suicide

Matsuri Takahashi isn't only victim of 'karoshi,' or 'death from overwork'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 29, 2016 12:21 PM CST
After Overworked Woman's Suicide, Japan Soul-Searches
In this Oct. 7, 2016, photo, Yukimi Takahashi, right, mother of Matsuri, speaks to journalists with a lawyer by her side at a news conference in Tokyo after her daughter's suicide was recognized as "karoshi," or death from overwork.   (Kyodo News via AP)

"It's 4am. My body's trembling. I'm going to die." That was reportedly one of Matsuri Takahashi's tweets not long before she killed herself last year by leaping from a dorm at Dentsu, the ad company where the 24-year-old worked, per the New York Times. This week, Dentsu's head quit, taking responsibility for Takahashi's suicide and his firm's culture of overwork. That culture is prevalent throughout Japan, and even has its own term, "karoshi," or "death from overwork." Tadashi Ishii offered his "heartfelt apology" Wednesday and said he'd offer his resignation to Dentsu's board in January; he apologized to Takahashi's family in person on Sunday, per the Japan Times. A labor department probe found Takahashi had been putting in more than 100 hours of overtime a month leading up to her death, and she'd noted on Twitter and to family that her bosses had harassed her and made sexist remarks.

Per the AP, an October survey in the country's first white paper on karoshi found 93 suicides or attempted suicides in 2015 tied to overwork (the Guardian says that number is more like 2,000 suicides a year), with 96 deaths from heart attacks, strokes, and other maladies linked to karoshi. Business Insider reports Japan "has been trying desperately" to tamp down this deeply ingrained work ethic, including a "work style reform" panel led by PM Shinzo Abe. Some firms have started encouraging more work-life balance, including Dentsu, which has a reputation as being particularly hard-core (a slogan dating to the '50s implored workers to do their job "even if it kills you"). Now Dentsu flicks the lights off at 10pm and makes workers take a minimum of five days off every six months. "[I want to] change the consciousness of every working person in Japan," Takahashi's mom says, per the Guardian. (A deeper look at karoshi.)

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