The Mainichi Shinbun reports today on a 32 year-old man who has died from Karoshi, or overwork. Granted, I read a few of the Japan blogs, but this is the second Karoshi incident I've read about today.
We mention Karoshi in "Tokyo Cowboys"...how the Salaryman sacrifices everything for work...how the sacrifice can take years of training and can sometimes result in death by overwork. Some people think this line is funny, but it's not meant to be. The kids train from a very early age. I've worked in the schools. Freezing, no coats allowed...study, study, study....then sports and after school activities...then juku (cram school)...then studying until late at night. I have never seen kids so exhausted.
I have seen them...the Salarymen and women falling asleep standing up on the trains. I have worked in their offices. I couldn't do it. I would leave every day at 5 p.m. with an "o-saki ni..." (I'm going before you...I'm committing a great rudeness). I felt ashamed abandoning them. But I was not a modern day samurai.
There is always a bit of an outcry for something to be done. But this kind of work-yourself-to-death ethic is almost a part of the cultural heritage of the Japanese who, during Samurai days, would rather gut themselves than lose face.
Why didn't the young man just quit? Why didn't he just say: "Take this job and shove it!"
It's just not done.
There is another bit in Cowboys where our mysterious J-lady commentator says that the Japanese don't like to say "no" because it is rude. But asking too much can be a burden. So the responsibility lies on the person who asks and not the one who answers (as is typical in Western culture).
There is some kind of Catch-22 thing going on here, but I can't work it out in my head.
Thanks to TokyoMango for the heads up. Also pinched the .gif and following quote from them: "The image shows a placard that reads: Death from overwork. Be careful not to work too much."