Grueling work hours trigger spike in suicides by Japanese employees

Last Updated Apr 16, 2017 9:48 PM EDT

TOKYO -- Japan’s unusually long hours on the job have triggered a health crisis.

An alarming rise in suicide among overworked employees has finally forced the government to limit overtime. But the proposed new ceiling on overtime is so high -- 100 hours per month -- critics say it still won’t protect workers.

CBS News took a look at the rising trend.

The trains are still packed at midnight as many commuters finally head home.

The Japanese work some of the most grueling hours in the world. But all those overtime hours are killing workers.

In fact, death by overwork is so common here that it has a name: karoshi.

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Satoshi Sekigawa

CBS Evening News

Satoshi Sekigawa was a manager at a cement factory. He committed suicide in 2010 after 109 hours of overtime one month.

The government ruled he’d been worked to death.

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Satoshi Sekigawa’s father

CBS Evening News

“I blame myself,” Sekigawa’s father told CBS News. “If he’d been honest with us I would have told him to quit.”

Years later his father can hardly bring himself to sort through his son’s room.

Overwork led to more than 2,000 suicides in 2015 according to the first ever government survey. Ninety-six died of a heart attack or stroke. And nearly a quarter of companies said employees were working more than 80 hours of overtime a week.

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Matsuri Takahashi 

CBS Evening News

One company -- Dentsu -- cut the lights at 10 p.m. to encourage employees to go home. This comes after 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi killed herself -- and left a trail of tweets about her punishing hours.

“Perhaps death is a much happier option,” she wrote.

“As long as the Japanese have this warped idea of what’s virtuous,” Satoshi’s father said. “We’ll have more karoshi victims.”

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Alarming stats about overtime hours in Japan and how it contributes to “karoshi.”

CBS Evening News