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Japanese Work Culture is Deadlier Than Most Americans Realize

The Japanese have a word for dying from overwork – karoshi.

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Beneath the romanticized image many foreigners have about life and work in Japan is a much deadlier reality. Dangerous burnout culture lurks in the office buildings of major Japanese cities, most notably the sleek and futuristic Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. In fact, the Japanese have a word for death by overwork – karoshi – which includes heart attack, stroke, and suicide caused by work related stress.

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Karoshi and overwork is a widespread issue embedded in Japan’s culture. Japan’s results-oriented office culture has produced stand out figures like Takayoshi Sato, an ex-employee of Konami who literally lived in the development team’s office for two and a half years to create and render the first Silent Hill game’s FMV cutscenes after his coworkers left each day. However, with such success comes a terrible downside. Much more tragic examples include Matsuri Takahashi, a 24-year-old business woman who committed suicide on Christmas day 2015. She had a job for eight months at Dentsu, Inc., quickly becoming overworked, depressed and chronically underslept.

YouTube / CNBC International

Higher stress means lower production; lower birthrate means a lower working population. So how can Japan change this deadly trend around?

Fortunately, there’s a growing number of young people breaking the cultural cycle by making their physical and mental health a priority and taking up after-work activities instead of overtime. Though the company’s betterment comes first, it doesn’t mean its employees have to work till they drop. And luckily, Japan has some stellar and relaxing natural locales to accompany its overworked cities.

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