I was saddened to read of the suicide of Matsuri Takahashi, driven to depression by the culture of overwork, bullying and harassment at the Dentsu Inc. advertising agency. That a young, intelligent woman should be made so miserable that she would take her own life is truly a tragedy.

Dentsu says it is taking the matter seriously, but way back in 1991, another of its staff committed suicide, also ruled as karoshi (death due to overwork). This makes me seriously doubt any claim the company might make about changing its practices: Dentsu clearly didn’t change then, and it won’t change now.

Oh, there may be cosmetic reforms such as “trimming” the amount of overtime that staff can “book,” but as soon as the story is out of the news it’ll be back to business as usual.

I also don’t trust Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s fine words about wanting to combat overtime culture. He’s personal friends with Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Miki Watanabe, founder of the Watami restaurant chain, voted the champion “black company” in both 2012 and 2013, who also had a karoshi suicide in 2008. If Abe were truly opposed to workplace exploitation, he wouldn’t have Watanabe in the government, let alone on the Upper House Economy and Industry Committee.

The recent white paper on karoshi “does not allow for regulations or penalties,” but the government will, wait for it, “study the situation.”This sends a clear signal to industry that while the situation is given a good hard studying, continued abuse and exploitation will go unpunished. How many more people have to die before study gives way to action?


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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