The word "karoshi" came into common use around 1990, when Japanese workers began working longer hours in response to competition from overseas and the recession at the time. Despite increased awareness of the dangers of overwork, de-regulation and increased global competition means that Japanese workers are working harder than ever.
About 20 years ago, heart attacks or strokes were a symbol of ‘karoshi’ in Japan. Today, workers are committing suicide. Of the more than 30,000 suicides recorded 2009, 10,000 were believed to be related to work, according to data from the national police agency. Suicide triggered by overwork is particularly prevalent among white color workers, also known as “salarymen” in Japan. Salarymen devote long work hours and loyalty to companies in exchange for a life-time of employment and benefits.
With the recession of the 1990s and the lifting of a ban on the use of cheap temporary laborers, salarymen increasingly work longer hours because of a shortage of manpower and the fear of losing jobs.