Monk is far from Zen as he sues tem­ple for over­work

The Star Malaysia - - World -

TOKYO: A Ja­panese monk is su­ing his tem­ple, claim­ing he was forced to work non-stop cater­ing to vis­it­ing tourists and that the heavy work­load gave him de­pres­sion, said his lawyer.

The monk in his 40s is seek­ing ¥8.6mil (RM310,000) from his tem­ple on Mount Koya, a World Her­itage Site also known as Koy­asan that 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 work-hour man­age­ment,” said Shi­rakura yes­ter­day.

“You pro­vide labour, but you are told it’s part of re­li­gious train­ing. And if it’s train­ing, you must en­dure even if it causes you sig­nif­i­cant hard­ship.”

“Through this case, we will ar­gue that such a no­tion is out­dated.”

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 labour 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 labour bureau, which ac­knowl­edged that the long stretch of work days with­out hol­i­day met the def­i­ni­tion of over­work.

The case is a rare, pub­lic labour dis­pute in­volv­ing the Ja­panese spir­i­tual sec­tor.

In 2017, Ky­oto’s renowned Hi­gashi Hon­ganji tem­ple was forced to pub­licly apol­o­gise for fail­ing to pay over­time com­pen­sa­tion and en­gag­ing in work-place ha­rass­ment.

Over­work is a ma­jor prob­lem in Ja­pan, and death by over­work is a recog­nised phe­nom­e­non that even has its own word in Ja­panese – karoshi.

A gov­ern­ment re­port re­leased last year found there had been 191 cases of “karoshi” in the 12 months to March 2017, and that more than seven per cent of Ja­panese em­ploy­ees logged over 20 hours of over­time a week.

Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s gov­ern­ment has in­tro­duced re­forms in­tended to tackle the prob­lem of over­work, but fam­ily mem­bers who have lost loved ones to the prob­lem ar­gue the mea­sures fall short. — AFP

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