apan’s health ministry has released its annual white paper on the nation’s long working hours and their links to depression and death from overwork, known as karoshi. The report shows that a total of 2,968 people in Japan died from suicides blamed on karoshi last year, up from 1,935 in 2021.
The white paper also reveals that 10.1 percent of men and 4.2 percent of women worked at least 60 hours a week, a level that exceeds the so-called “line of karoshi” at which point worker compensation for work-related medical disorders is approved.
Karoshi can be caused by brain or heart diseases, as well as mental health problems, due to work stress. The number of applications for compensation from the government for these conditions rose from 753 in 2021 to 803 last year.
The health ministry has enacted measures to promote workstyle reform for doctors, who are among the most overworked professionals in Japan. The measures include a provision that capped legal overtime work at 155 hours a month, or 100 hours a month on average over a six-month period. However, critics say that these limits are still too high and do not guarantee the health and well-being of doctors, who often face long shifts, heavy workloads, and high expectations from patients and society.
The report also highlights the challenges faced by female doctors, who are often discouraged from pursuing their careers after childbirth due to gender role stereotyping and a lack of support systems. The number of surgeons and obstetricians has not increased in recent years, despite the growing demand for medical services from the aging population.
The health ministry has urged employers, workers, and the public to raise awareness of the dangers of karoshi and to seek help if they experience any signs of physical or mental distress. The ministry has also called for a change in the traditional values and work culture that glorifies long working hours and sacrifices personal and family life for work.