People Are Outraged After This Woman Died Of Heart Failure From Being Pressured To Work 150 Hours Of Overtime

"When women die from overwork, they become a news story."

In July 2013, Miwa Sado, a 31-year-old journalist from Tokyo, Japan, died from congestive heart failure.


Sado covered two elections in summer 2013: the Tokyo Assembly election and the upper-house election. According to the Asahi Shimbun, her work included interviews with candidates and campaign staffs, recording campaign speeches, and attending meetings that predicted the result of an election.

Over the course of covering two elections, she spent most days working past midnight. In the month leading up to her death, she only took two days off.

Sado died three days after the second election.

Japan's Labor Standards Inspection Office attributed her death to karoshi — aka death from overwork — in 2014. However, her employer, Japan's national broadcaster NHK, didn't acknowledge it until just last week.


Karoshi became widely known in Japan in the late 1980s. However, a long-hours culture is deeply rooted in many companies across various industries.

The problem is so bad that there's a "karoshi line"— 100 hours in a month or an average of 80 hours in a 2- to 6-month period before death — that is used as a threshold to determine whether death due to overwork will be recognized.

A close friend of Sado found her dead in her bed, still holding her cell phone.


Japan’s Labor Standards Inspection Office, based on a self-reported work schedule, said that she exceeded 159 hours at work in the month leading up to her death.

However, Sado's family says otherwise. The Asahi Shimbun reported that the family searched for records of Sado's computer, cell phone, and taxi tickets, and say that there's a possibility that she worked as many as 209 hours.

According to the Asahi Shimbun, Sado's parents said their daughter mentioned her work when they sent an email on her birthday in June 2013.

Sado replied to their email, "[I'm] busy and stressed out; I think about wanting to quit once a day. But I just need to hang in there."

"It breaks my heart when I think that she might've wanted to call me", Sado's mother told the Asahi Shimbun.

NHK said it "refrained from making an announcement" for three years out of respect for her family.

Toru Yamanaka / AFP / Getty Images

However, this summer, Sado's parents demanded the broadcaster to take measures to prevent their daughter's death from "being forgotten," when they learned that other employees were not aware that overwork death had occurred within the company.

In recent years, Japanese media have reported on deaths due to overwork, and NHK also tackled issues involving the promotion of work-style reforms.

It was later revealed this Tuesday that the employer didn't make an official report about Sado's death to the managing committee until this October; the committee holds the authority to supervise the broadcaster's executives.

After NHK finally publicly acknowledged Sado's death, the story exploded across Japanese social media and inspired others to share their own stories about the pressures of overwork.


"This is painful. I also worked at least 100 hours overtime before I was fired due to mental illness. I worked 20 days a month with overtime five hours a day, finished work at 10 o'clock, and got back home at around 11. If it was 120 hours of overtime work, I would've finished work half past midnight and arrived at home at 1:30. It's definitely impossible to work like this every day."


"I just saw a news report on how long the woman had worked overtime, and it was pretty much similar to mine. I guess it means that if I'd still continued [working like that], it wouldn't have been a surprise if I died from overwork within two years."

学生に会社から身を守る方法を学ばせよう。私の場合は旦那に「自殺するかも」とメールで伝えたら「会社を辞めていいよ」と言ってくれたので助かった。でも彼女の場合は臓器が先にやられた。誰かに伝える時間さえなかったのかも 女性記者の過労死

"We should educate students ways to protect themselves from companies. In my case, when I told my husband through email that 'I might commit suicide,' he rescued me by responding, 'You can quit your job.' But in her case, her organs stopped functioning first. Maybe she didn't even have time to tell someone."

こういうの見ると思う。私はたまたま死なずにすんでラッキーだっただけなんだと。 NHKの31歳女性記者が過労死 残業、月159時間(朝日新聞デジタル) - Yahoo!ニュース @YahooNewsTopics

"When I read news like this, I think about how lucky I simply am not ending up dead."


"An employee at NHK died from 159 hours of overwork. I've done it before, and I had no room in my mind for sure."

While others blasted young Japanese workers — particularly women — calling them "spoiled."


"When women die from overwork, they become a news story."


"Japan doesn't have resources, so you'll fully be an adult once you overwork. There's an obligation to work in the Constitution as well. People who don't work are disqualified as a member of society. Saying that you want to rest is lenience. Have you ever thought about how privileged Japanese people are, when you look at the world?"

NHKのリポーター?が159時間の残業で死んでたってやつ、なんとも思わないねぇ なぜなら毎月200時間くらい残業してるからねぇ 159くらいで死なれたら俺なんか毎月死んでは生き返ってるわけだよ?

"I don't feel anything at all about the news, because I work overtime for around 200 hours each month. If you let her die with just 159 hours, I'll be dying and coming back alive each month."

The announcement about Sado's death also reminded many people in Japan about the suicide of a young woman named Matsuri Takahashi at an advertising agency last year.

Kyodo Kyodo / Reuters

The 24-year-old jumped from an employee dormitory after her workload at Dentsu, Inc., increased sharply. A labor inspection office confirmed she logged 105 hours of overtime in the month before her depression.

She had written about her exhaustion on Twitter in the days leading up to her death. "I have lost all my emotions, except for a desire to sleep," she wrote. "Once again, it's been decided that I have to work on weekends too. I seriously want to die."

Tweets about her boss's words such as "your sleepy face during meetings shows you are incapable of managing the work" revealed that she also suffered from power and sexual harassment.

"There's no job more important than your life. My daughter's death is not a performance. It's not a fiction. It's something that happened in reality," her mother, Yukimi Takahashi, pictured above, said at a symposium on measures to prevent death from overwork in November.

This incident at one of the biggest and prestigious companies was widely reported and led to the resignation of Dentsu's president and a rare court trial (Dentsu has been fined 500,000 yen); it sparked and outcry and demands for the government and companies to rethink about the working culture in Japan.

A female journalist who, in the past, logged more than 100 hours of overwork at a newspaper told BuzzFeed Japan, "You could feel that our sense of time was out of tune with society."

Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP / Getty Images

"No lines were drawn between private and work life, and that's considered good. There was, in a sense, a belief that being hardworking equals the amount of time you work."

She never thought about asking anyone for help, because she felt that complaining about the situation "wouldn't change anything."

In the case of young employees, low income, a value that considers patience as the greatest virtue, and an urban legend about how transferring jobs before spending three years at a company becomes a disadvantage are some of the many reasons they do not run away.

Another former reporter at a magazine company said that there were times when she felt she "could just die." She worked overtime as long as 150 hours.

"There was an atmosphere that people who sought for work-life balance should just go somewhere else. It was their fault that they couldn't enjoy work," she said.

"I didn't quit [for a while] because I would've been frustrated if people thought of me that way. On my days off, I brought my work back home and did interviews as well. Days passed by without being able to rest."