Tag Archives: being healthy

Lessons From Japan’s (Deadly) Work Culture

Karoshi: Why Do So Many Japanese Die From Overworking?

In general, being a hard worker is a respectable trait to have. Regardless of your background, culture, or political affiliations, we tend to value and celebrate those who are willing to put in the extra effort into whatever they do for a living. It’s not easy. It can be incredibly stressful at times. Then again, most things worth doing are.

I certainly remember plenty of times when I worked hard. Going all the way back to high school, I can recall days in which I spent nearly every waking hour grinding away at something or another, be it schoolwork, chores, or a part-time job. I remember being drained when all was said and done, but I was ultimately stronger because of it.

That being said, there is a certain threshold in which hard work ceases to be about productivity and just becomes downright damaging. I suspect many people have approached or cross that threshold at some point in their lives, whether it’s with school or a career. However, I don’t think enough people appreciate just how damaging excessive work can be.

This brings me to Japan and their legendary, albeit infamous, work culture. Think back to the longest, hardest day you had at school or your job. In Japan, that’s basically Tuesday. Work for them is not just some 9-to-5 gig you do for a paycheck. It’s a sizable chunk of their lives, more so than American or European workers.

Working overtime, sleeping at the office, and sacrificing for the company aren’t seen as above and beyond. That’s the standard. Yes, it’s a very high standard, but let’s not forget these are real people pushing themselves in extreme ways to meet that standard.

While this high emphasis on work has helped Japan become one of the best economies in the world, it does have a dark side. It’s so prevalent and common, in fact, that the Japanese even have a word for it. It’s called Karoshi, which translates to “overwork death.”

It’s exactly what it sounds like, but it’s actually more complex than that.

It’s a serious ongoing issue in Japan. You don’t have to look far for horror stories about what happens to people who succumb to Karoshi. There are real cases of otherwise healthy 31-year-old men dying of heart failure after regularly working 14-hour days for 7 years straight.

Take a step back and appreciate that kind of strain.

You work so long and so hard that your heart gives out.

It’s one thing to work until you’re tired and sore, but it takes a special kind of strain for your heart to just give out.

As bad as that is, this isn’t the only way Karoshi manifests. Beyond the long hours at the office and the constant stress that comes with it, you can see other signs throughout Japan. It’s not that uncommon to see people asleep on the streets or on park benches. It’s as normal as seeing someone taking selfies.

For a more in depth look on how this unfolds in Japan, check out this video. It’s what got me interested in this topic and inspired me to bring it up.

Now, I’m not looking to denigrate or demean another country’s work culture. I understand that not every society sees work the same way or approaches it in a way people from my part of the world would recognize. At the same time, it’s hard to overlook the issues that result in people dying of heart attacks before they’re 40.

It’s something the Japan is trying to address, but changing ingrained culture isn’t easy. Changing peoples work habits isn’t easy, either. People are set in their ways. I say that as someone who regularly struggled with Spanish quizzes in high school, but never though to adjust study habits.

It’s also an issue I think highlights and important lesson for any society that emphasizes hard work. Yes, it’s generally good, but there are limits. There comes a point where the work is more valued than the person doing it and when you reach that point, the well-being of the person becomes an afterthought.

Those who claim that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life may beg to differ. To them, I would remind them that the human body doesn’t recognize whether or not you’re doing something you love or something you hate. It just knows when it’s being strained to the point where it starts failing.

I feel like this will become more relevant in the coming years. The events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have already significantly affected the workplace and I’m not just referring to the rise of telework. If anything, these events have accelerated the pace of automation. The jobs that used to require all that grinding are becoming less and less necessary.

What will that mean for workers in general?

What will that mean for work culture like that of Japan?

Will it make Karoshi better or worse as certain jobs become more scarce or unnecessary?

These are difficult questions to answer right now, but I suspect that these trends won’t change peoples’ inclination for hard work. It’s just a matter of where that effort will be directed and how we’ll balance it out with the health of the individual. That’s a balance that we still need to strike, no matter how many jobs get automated.

Work/life balance isn’t just a popular buzzword. It’s critical to those who want to both be productive and live fulfilling lives. If you’re life is all work, then is it really living in the grand scheme of things? If anything, the Japanese phenomenon of Karoshi offers insight into what happens when there is no balance. The line between working hard and working yourself to death can get blurred at times, but it’s worth making that line just a little bit clearer, if only to navigate it more effectively.

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Why You Should Get A Yearly Flu Shot (And My Worst Experience With The Flu)

Should you get a flu shot this year? | India News,The Indian Express

For the past year, I’ve gone out of my way to urge people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 while also pointing out why anti-vaxx arguments are ridiculously stupid. Honestly, I’m sick of doing that and I’m sick of talking about this. I wish getting a vaccine didn’t have to be a point of contention, but that’s just the state of the world we live in.

Again, get vaccinated people. You’ll end this pandemic and save lives in the process.

That being said, I’d like to add another layer to this effort. It’s not quite as dire as the current situation with COVID-19, but it’s still relevant, given that it involves our health and ways we can improve it. It has to do flu shots.

Now, let me start by making clear that the flu is not as serious as COVID-19. Despite the claims of certain misinformed pundits, the typical flu is less likely to kill you than COVID-19. You still don’t want to get either because even if it doesn’t kill you, having the flu is an awful experience.

You feel like crap for almost an entire week.

You can barely eat anything and even when you do, it’s hard to keep down.

Your face is flushed all the time, your nose is stuffy, your throat is sore, and your head won’t stop pounding from the inside.

It’s just an all-around bad time for you and your body. If you’re older or happen to be in poor health, it can be even more serious. People do die because of the flu and it’s not a trivial figure, either.

That’s why I encourage everyone to get a yearly flu shot, especially this year. Last year was bad enough, but this year is even more critical. Now that lockdowns are over and people are trying to live life as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, the flu is likely to make a comeback.

As such, if you can get a flu shot, do what you have to do in order to get it. Do it for yourself and your family. I certainly plan on doing so. If you need information on doing so, the CDC has an entire section of their website dedicated to it.

It’s not a conspiracy.

It’s not an agenda.

It’s just a shot that’ll protect you from another disease you don’t want to get.

To further reinforce that point, I’d like to share a quick story about the worst flu I ever got and how it affected my attitudes towards flu shots. It’s not a very pleasant story, but I hope it gets the point across as to why flu shots are critical.

To set the stage and context, this occurred back when I was in the seventh grade. At this point in my life, I wasn’t in great shape overall. However, aside from bad allergies and acne, I was in generally good health. I hadn’t been seriously sick beyond a common cold in years. As a result, I saw little need for flu shots.

Then, one evening, I started feeling a little ill. I can remember exactly when it happened. It was around 7:00 p.m. one evening. I’d finished dinner and my folks were watching TV. It started with a sore throat and a cough, but it was nothing I hadn’t dealt with before. I thought I’d feel fine after I slept it off.

I was very wrong.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt terrible. My joints hurt, my head hurt, my sinuses were stuffed up, and I was so weak you could knock me over with a feather. I don’t remember looking in the mirror that morning, but I’m pretty sure I looked like hell.

Despite all that, I still thought I could make it to school that day. I thought it was just something that would wear off after I got going. I made an effort to get dressed, get some breakfast, and walk to school. My mother kept encouraging me not to, but I didn’t listen.

In hindsight, this was a terrible decision.

I managed to make it to school. But just as my first class began, my body just gave out. I couldn’t keep my head up and I couldn’t focus. My teacher naturally sent me to the school clinic. Once there, the nurse said I had a 101-degree fever. That’s pretty bad, even for a seventh grader.

My mom had to come and pick me up. To her credit, she didn’t say, “I told you so.” She just took me home, laid me down on the couch, gave me some medicine, and let me sleep.

The next few days sucked, but they weren’t nearly s bad as the first. I was so weak, tired, and sickly that I couldn’t do much aside from watch TV. At one point, I ran out of favorite movies to watch. I tried playing video games, but my head was in such a fog that I didn’t have much fun.

It was just such a terrible experience overall. Even after I got better, I made it a point to take the flu serious from that day forward. I always got a flu shot when it was available. I also took my health a bit more seriously, even though I wouldn’t get in shape until years later. I think that experience helped inform future health habits that have stuck with me to this day.

I still wish I didn’t have to go through that to learn the value of good health and flu shots. I certainly don’t want anyone to have to learn those hard lessons like I did. Even if the flu is not life-threatening, it’s just not an experience you want to have.

So please, if you can, get a flu shot this year.

Get one every year if you can. Take it from someone who learned the hard way. Having the flu sucks. A vaccine can help protect you from it and after living through a pandemic, we should all make the effort.

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