Far from Zen: Monk sues temple for overwork
TOKYO — A Japanese monk is suing his temple, claiming he was forced to work nonstop catering to visiting tourists and that the heavy workload gave him depression, his lawyer said on Thursday.
The monk, who is in his 40s, is seeking 8.6 million yen ($78,000) from his temple on Mount Koya, a World Heritage Site also known as Koyasan that is regarded as one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Japan.
The plaintiff began working at a temple there in 2008 and became depressed around December 2015, according to his lawyer Noritake Shirakura.
“If you work as a monk, too often you work without workhour management,” he said.
“You provide labor, but you are told it’s part of religious training. And if it’s training, you must endure even it causes you significant hardship.”
Shirakura declined to name his client or the temple being sued, saying the man wanted to preserve his anonymity so he could eventually return to his job or find a position elsewhere in the small community of Buddhist monks.
The case argues that the monk was forced to perform paid labor far beyond his spiritual duties, and at times worked for more than two months straight.
In 2015, when the Koyasan area celebrated its 1,200th anniversary, he was forced to work for up to 64 days in a row to handle a surge of tourists to the site, Shirakura said.
Some days, he worked 17 hours straight, performing various temple functions including attending to visitors, the lawyer said.
The monk has already won the backing of a local labor bureau, which acknowledged that the long stretch of work days without holidays met the definition of overwork.
Overwork is a major problem in Japan, and death by overwork is a recognized phenomenon that even has its own word in Japanese — “karoshi”.