Journal of Business Ethics

, 84:209 | Cite as

“Karoshi (Work to Death)” in Japan

  • Atsuko KanaiEmail author


Since the collapse of Japan’s bubble economy in the early 1990’s, the Japanese economy has only recovered slightly. This has direct implications for employment. Both the seniority wage system and the lifetime employment system, which were popular during the period of economic growth in Japan, unavoidably changed to an outcome-wage system. Now there is greater mobility in employment, increased use of non-regular employees, and diversed working patterns. The problem of karoshi – a potentially fatal syndrome resulting from long work hours – has been known since the early 1980s. This problem has become more serious in recent years. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the economic and employment conditions in Japan, as well as to examine the working lifestyle of Japanese men and its connection to “karoshi.” It is argued that (1) the long work hours are not the preference of individuals, but rather the result of the adaptation to the work environment, and; (2) solving this problem requires re-conceptualization of workers’ human rights on the part of both companies and the society as a whole.


karoshi (work to death) karo-jisatsu (suicide by overwork) white-collar exemption Japanese male workers 



I thank Drs. Gregory Jarrett and Yukari Okamoto for their helpful comments on the draft of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Education and Human developmentNagoya UniversityFuro-cyo, Chikusa-kuJapan

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