Ja­panese journos work­ing to death

Cul­ture of ex­ces­sively long hours has be­come an oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ard for coun­try’s me­dia

The Star Malaysia - - World -

Tokyo: The news that a young re­porter at Ja­pan’s pub­lic broad­caster had worked her­self to death came as lit­tle sur­prise to those inside the coun­try’s me­dia, where a cul­ture of ex­ces­sively long hours has be­come the norm.

“I thought it would hap­pen even­tu­ally be­cause we work like crazy ... like a slave,” said a jour­nal­ist at one of Ja­pan’s ma­jor news­pa­pers.

“I re­ally thought I would die,” she said on con­di­tion of anonymity, re­call­ing her days chas­ing af­ter the prime min­is­ter and law­mak­ers in Tokyo, when she would rou­tinely come home from work at 1am and wake up four hours later.

While jour­nal­ists tend to work long hours in many coun­tries, the sit­u­a­tion in Ja­pan is among the most ex­treme, with re­porters ex­pected to be on the job 24-7.

The news­pa­per jour­nal­ist – now in her 30s – was one of a gang of hard­core Ja­panese re­porters who stake out the houses of politi­cians they were as­signed to fol­low every sin­gle night whether there is news or not – a rit­ual called “Yo­mawari”, mean­ing “night round”.

Even on a snowy night, she used to wait hours out­side the house of a politi­cian she was cov­er­ing.

“I had dis­pos­able hand warm­ers ev­ery­where on my body but it was still too cold. I couldn’t go to the bath­room. It’s bad for your health,” she said, adding that she’s seen fel­low jour­nal­ists be­com­ing physi- cally and men­tally ill.

And for­get the week­end, she added, as po­lit­i­cal re­porters chase law­mak­ers back to their con­stituen­cies on Fri­day night.

A for­mer Tokyo TV re­porter pointed the fin­ger at the Ja­panese cul­ture of “fight­ing spirit”, in which you’re told to never give up no mat­ter what.

The 32-year-old, who was no stranger to work­ing around the clock, re­mem­bers the day she kept go­ing even though she felt se­ri­ously ill.

“I didn’t have time even to check my body tem­per­a­ture. Later I real

39° ised I had a fever,” she said.

“Bosses would say you shouldn’t be lazy but they wouldn’t say you should get rest be­cause you’re work­ing too hard.”

“Then you be­come like a zom­bie ... this has to stop.”

The case of NHK re­porter Miwa Sado, who died of heart fail­ure aged 31 af­ter log­ging 159 hours of over­time in the month be­fore she died, made global head­lines but was far from an iso­lated tragedy.

Every year in Ja­pan, long work­ing hours are blamed for dozens of deaths due to strokes, heart at­tacks and sui­cides.

Death from over­work even has its own word in Ja­panese – “karoshi”. Ac­cord­ing to a gov­ern­ment re­port re­leased last week, there were 191 “karoshi” cases in the year end­ing March 2017.

The re­port also showed that 7.7% of em­ploy­ees in Ja­pan reg­u­larly log more than 20 hours of over­time a week.

NHK jour­nal­ist Sado, who had been cov­er­ing Tokyo as­sem­bly elec­tions and an up­per-house vote for the na­tional par­lia­ment, was found dead in her bed in July 2013, re­port­edly clutch­ing her mo­bile phone.

A gov­ern­ment in­quest a year af­ter her death ruled that it was linked to ex­ces­sive over­time. She had taken two days off in the month be­fore she died.

NHK even­tu­ally made the case pub­lic four years later, bow­ing to pres­sure from Sado’s par­ents to take ac­tion to pre­vent a re­cur­rence. — AFP

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