Death by overwork

Death by overwork

'Death from overwork' is so common in Japan there's even a word for it. But is it physically possible?

The Japanese have a knack for inventing words - and there are some that every self-respecting office worker should have in their vocabulary.

There's arigata-meiwaku: when someone does you a favour that you didn't ask them to - which actually caused you massive inconvenience - but you're socially obliged to thank them anyway.

Or how about majime: an earnest, dependable colleague who can get things done without causing any drama.

But there's one uniquely Japanese term you don't want to relate to: karoshi, which translates as "death by overwork".

Reports of the nation's corporate breadwinners, known as "salarymen", dropping dead from overwork have been making headlines for decades.

But is it just urban legend?

Well, no. The social phenomenon was first recognised in 1987, when the health ministry began logging cases after the sudden deaths of a string of high-flying executives.

So widespread is the issue, that in Japan, if a death is judged karoshi, the victim's family receives compensation from the government of around $20,000 per year and company payouts of up to $1.6 million.

Initially, the government was documenting a couple of hundred cases every year.

But by 2015, claims had risen to a record high of 2,310, according to a report by the Japanese Labour Ministry.

This may be the tip of the iceberg. According to the National Defence Council for Victims of Karoshi, the true figure may be as high as 10,000 - roughly the same number of people killed each year by traffic.

But can you really die from overwork? Or is it just a case of old age and undiagnosed medical conditions?

In an increasingly well-connected world, where technology keeps us in the loop 24-7, work hours are creeping up. Could karoshi be going on unrecognised elsewhere?

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