17 months without a day off led to suicide

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The Independent Online
For 17 months after joining Japan's top advertising firm, Ichiro Oshima didn't get a single day off. He often worked late, at times until dawn, and at 9am every day, he was back, dusting desks and answering phones.

The rigorous schedule took its toll, and Mr Oshima, 24, killed himself at his home in 1991. His parents took his case to law, and the Tokyo District Court ordered his employer, Dentsu, to pay 126 million yen (pounds 790,000) compensation.

Although deaths from overwork have been contested in lawsuits before, Mr Oshima's is the first case in which a suicide was linked to overwork, according to the Tokyo Labour Standards Bureau. Lawyers for Dentsu had argued that Oshima's personal and family troubles, not his work conditions, were behind his death. The company never forced Oshima to work those hours, Dentsu said, and the company was considering an appeal.

Death from overwork, or karoshi, has long been a sensitive issue in Japan. Last year, the Labour Ministry found at least 63 cases of death from overwork. Many Japanese work free overtime and fear they won't have their jobs when they return from long vacations. Such workaholic tendencies are widespread because of intense pressures to conform and to be loyal to their corporate "family".