In Japan, karoshi means "death from overwork." The term is said to have originated in 1982 when three Japanese doctors published a book entitled Karoshi that noted many victims of overworking and included research into their deaths. The victims were young men that were otherwise healthy, but worked more than 60 hours a week on average and had died on the job from heart attacks and strokes.
Between the mid-1940s and the mid-1970s, a disproportionate number of Japanese men in their thirties and forties were dying on the job of cardiovascular problems. The first publicized case didn't occur until 1969 when a 29 year old male working for the largest newspaper in Japan died from a stroke. Public outcry since that time has led to monetary compensation being awarded for karoshi victims' families and some workplace changes were put in place. However, many Japanese people feel that most so-called anti-karoshi policies are not effective as Japan's work system is still conducive to excessive work and job stress.
Karoshi is attributed to the style of workplace management known as Japanese Production Management (JPM). High production is the main focus of JPM and studies have found that JPM has contributed to sudden deaths due to high work expectations and high stress. The Japanese call these types of deaths karoshi and one study found that 46% of 500 business workers studied at top Tokyo companies feared that they would become karoshi victims.
A major characteristic of JPM is that no time is supposed to be wasted. It's a stressful work system because even seconds that are wasted are considered unacceptable. Another main characteristic of JPM is the teamwork approach. If even one worker takes seconds longer than is considered the most efficient time to complete a task, then the whole team becomes slower which slows down production. There can be great pressure not to be the person responsible for slowing down the team.
Several groups that oppose JPM and advocate karoshi prevention exist in Japan, as well as karoshi hotlines. In 1988, a group of lawyers formed the National Defense Council for Victims of Karoshi. Although much has been done to help prevent karoshi and to help aid the families of karoshi victims financially, Japan is still a country of long working hours. Japan is noted as having the longest working hours of all industrialized countries as its workers average at least 60 hours of work per week.