COVID-19 INFORMATION What you need to know about the coronavirus if you are living in Japan or planning a visit.

Here
and
Now

kuchikomi

Dentsu's 'power harassment hell'

48 Comments

“My God, I don’t want to go to work!”

Neither do I and neither do you. On any given morning urban commuter train, how many people would be thinking that? How many would be tweeting it? But one young woman who tweeted it on October 4, 2015, committed suicide two and a half months later. In her case it meant more than mere grumbling. What? asks Shukan Bunshun (Oct 20). Two things, it answers: exhaustion, and power harassment.

Early last Christmas morning, the magazine says, Yukimi Takahashi got an email from her 24-year-old daughter Matsuri: “Work is unbearable. Life is unbearable. Thank you for everything.”

Panicking, Yukimi telephoned: “Dying is not the answer! If it’s that bad, quit the company!” “Okay, mother,” Matsuri replied.

That evening Matsuri Takahashi jumped to her death from her fourth-floor room in the company dorm. Last month, Tokyo’s Labor Standards Inspection Bureau ruled the death a case of "karoshi" (death from overwork) – effectively implicating her employer.

Her employer was Dentsu Inc, Japan’s largest advertising agency. Matsuri joined the company in April 2015, congratulating herself on securing a job with a future. She was a bright, vivacious girl, say those who knew her in high school and beyond, and an excellent student, as you have to be to get into Tokyo University, from whose literature department she graduated before landing what seemed like a dream job.

The first six months – essentially a training period – boded well. The rookies were divided into groups and assigned presentations. Matsuri’s won praise and a prize. She seemed on her way.

In October, says Shukan Bunshun, things turned nasty. The orientation was over. She was a regular employee now, and she soon discovered what that meant – very long hours, enormous pressure, relentless criticism bordering on personal insults. Her department handled Internet advertising. It’s brutal. The client knows exactly how many clicks the ad is getting at any given moment, and it’s never enough. Around that time, too, Dentsu was involved in a dodgy accounting scandal. Apologies followed exposure, reflection followed apologies, and everyone was even more on edge than usual. Understaffing was held to be the main problem, but Matsuri’s department suffered a deep staff cut, from 14 to eight. The work poured in, the hours piled up. One month she worked 105 hours of overtime.

She was very new to the job, and had very little clout. She took to tweeting her frustration: “It’s horrible, horrible, a freshman employee’s lot is no fun at all, I have no time for anything but work, Saturday too... Honestly, I want to die.”

She tweeted comments she was getting from her bosses. Evidently they saw her weakening under the strain. “Of the overtime you put in,” they allegedly told her, “20 hours are useless to the company.” “If you come to meetings looking like you’re half asleep you’re not fit for management.” “Don’t come to work with bloodshot eyes and your hair all over the place.” “If you can’t stand the pace, you’re not up to the job.”

“Clearly,” says psychologist Hideki Wada after analyzing the tweets, “she was overworked and hadn’t been getting enough sleep. It’s quite possible she was suffering from clinical depression.”

That, in brief, is the working life and working death of Matsuri Takahashi. Dentsu’s response to the labor bureau’s "karoshi" finding has been a pledge to limit overtime hours to 65 a month from November. The problem doesn’t, of course, begin and end with Dentsu. According to the labor ministry, nearly a quarter of Japanese firms report at least some employees working more than 80 hours of overtime a month.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

48 Comments
Login to comment

That, in brief, is the working life and working death of Matsuri Takahashi. Dentsu’s response to the labor bureau’s “karoshi” finding has been a pledge to limit overtime hours to 65 a month from November. The problem doesn’t, of course, begin and end with Dentsu. According to the labor ministry, nearly a quarter of Japanese firms report at least some employees working more than 80 hours of overtime a month.

Limit to 65? That is basically 17 hours per week, or 3 hours per day, meaning they are opening flaunting the labor standards law regarding 40 hour work week's. And if the authorities agree to this, THEY need to be taken out back and shot too!

I wonder if they are getting the "overtime" pay they deserve? Kicks in after 20 hours I'll bet.

18 ( +20 / -2 )

Would Dentsu or any other Japanese company collapse and go bankrupt if their employees did not give them 100 hours of free overtime? If so, they should because they obviiously have bad management and very low efficiency.

Perhaps Japanese society should look into the Netherlands and other European countries who have a robust economy but work a whole lot less. The Netherlands work on average 29 hours a week. 29. Not 80, not 100. 29. And is protected by something called The Law and it is enforced. A positive work-life balance is also highly encouraged by the government. What a concept, a government looking after its citizens.

21 ( +23 / -2 )

For Dentsu: crippling fines and criminal prosecutions would be just. I doubt it. Misery is a way of life.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

“Of the overtime you put in,” they allegedly told her, “20 hours are useless to the company.” “If you come to meetings looking like you’re half asleep you’re not fit for management.” “Don’t come to work with bloodshot eyes and your hair all over the place.” “If you can’t stand the pace, you’re not up to the job.”

This shows what an utter failure the Dentsu management model is. If your employee is putting in 20 hours of useless overtime, find out what the problem is. If the problem is they're too tired to work properly, send them home. Scolding them for being unable to keep up with your incompetent management doesn't get the job done.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

“It’s horrible, horrible, a freshman employee’s lot is no fun at all, I have no time for anything but work, Saturday too..,

At a lot of Japanese companies and schools, full-time employees/teachers also work not only Saturdays, but the bulk of Sundays and national holidays as well. I know this first hand.

In retrospect, I would avoid working for a Japanese company like the plague, particularly if you have family obligations. Japanese companies tend to be very family unfriendly. The organization always comes first.

Whether it be students at schools or workers at companies, most organizations in Japan habitually come up with unproductive ways of occupying their members' time, often in the form of 'voluntary' activities, so that it is impossible to strike a reasonable work-life balance.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

“Dying is not the answer! If it’s that bad, quit the company!”

this mother had the clue.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

As an "international advertising and public relations company," Dentsu fails abysmally when it comes to its own PR and avoiding full-blown scandals such as this.

Given the company's supposed PR expertise, you would think it would go out of its way to implement humane employment practices in an effort to convey a positive corporate image.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Fines are not enough. Managers and company presidents should do jail time for something like this. This cure for power harassment is executives behind bars.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Yubaru: opening flaunting the labor standards law regarding 40 hour work week's.

Probably the 40 hours/week only applies to hourly workers, no limit on salaried workers.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The worst abuses in Japan are not foreigners abusing Japanese (as some would have you believe) but Japanese abusing fellow Japanese.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Dentsu - one of the largest media / marketing / advertising conglomerates in the world, is arguably the most powerful corporation in Japan bar none, with a history dating back generations.

It's hold of The Media, allows it to essentially dictate it's terms to all and sundry - from politics to business to news to tv to social media to advertising to major events (witness the Dentsu Olympics & the Dentsu Rugby World cup)..etc!

These stories would never break first on major networks or ahk. Too many tentacles strangling too many. This young woman's sorry plight would surely be a mere scratch on their surface. Very sad situation indeed.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I always wonder about such stories. Having worked in Japan for nearly two decades I've watched hundreds of J staff duff about and waste their time at work. I can't help but feel part of the issue truly is that many here have no concept of time management. Certainly not excusing the company as I've known many who work for them and many have mental health issues, but if she was showing up to work with I lot hair and the like, I don't think my bosses would be too happy either. Companies need to be fined for horrific working conditions but companies should be able to easily fire those who can't do the job - not saying this is the case here at all.

My husband doesn't do overtime his coworkers often complain about how busy they are. Clearly an issue somewhere.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

In retrospect, I would avoid working for a Japanese company like the plague, particularly if you have family obligations. Japanese companies tend to be very family unfriendly. The organization always comes first.

I have worked for Japanese companies for over 30 years. Many are like this, but only because the people working there allow their companies to rule their lives.

There are people in all these companies that do not fit the "form" you are trying to put everyone into, they dont work late, they are not slaves to their companies, and they have lives outside of work. They are oddities, and many people bitch about them, but others are jealous of their ability to separate work and their private lives. Not many, but there are Japanese like this.

Oh and as I have written before, I work for a company, Japanese, where NONE of what you write here is true, it's the opposite.

The CEO has the belief that people do a good job because they have a good home, and if they have a good home life, they do a good job. And yes it works, and yes it's Japanese. I walk out the door at 5:30 PM with about half the staff, all fulltime, no hourly or contracted employees, and while some stay it's their choice and no one says anything.

Do your job, go home. It works.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

tmarie: I always wonder about such stories. Having worked in Japan for nearly two decades I've watched hundreds of J staff duff about and waste their time at work. I can't help but feel part of the issue truly is that many here have no concept of time management.

USA is same, lots of places.

Not sure that time management principles or any other productivity-enhancing measures would be welcomed. All sorts of counteraction can be pictured.

If at a particular level one person increases his productivity and outshines the others, he'll get hammered down, right?

If one manager's department outshines the others, he may get hammered down. Or if his department's productivity jumps, won't that mean it's been allocated too much budget? Which should be trimmed next cycle?

And lots of company types don't welcome productivity increases at all, because it negatively affects their income. Government contractors would like to stretch out contracts as long as they can collect money for them, for example.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

It is amazing that NOTHING Is being done about this, and I mean NOTHING. I'm sorry, but Dentsu -- clearly a company of high moral fiber -- with it's newly imposed "limit" of 65 hours of overtime, is still committing illegalities. That much overtime is illegal, is it not? And even if they pay them for the overtime, which I highly doubt (I mean, on top of the regular pay they should get for the time worked, like 1.5 times), Dentsu will still carry out Zangyou sabisu, guaranteed.

Why doesn't the government go beyond lip service on this issue? Because they are a big part of the problem and actually stand behind the zangyou sabisu system. Imagine what it would mean for ALL the companies in Japan if they actually enforced the laws.

Every single person who tweeted those comments to the young lady, as well as the company for its practices, need to be held criminally responsible for the woman's death, as well as for breaking laws with overtime, power abuse, etc. But nope.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Unionize.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

smithinjapan: That much overtime is illegal, is it not?

I thought the article on the nuclear power section chief's suicide or a comment made to to that article or to one of the Dentsu articles said there's no legal limit on overtime worked by salaried employees.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Unionize.

Believe it or not, just about every major corporation is unionized, but talking about them would take pages as they are in bed with the companies and are not unions in the typical sense.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Dentsu’s response to the labor bureau’s “karoshi” finding has been a pledge to limit overtime hours to 65 a month from November

Dentsu will not keep that pledge, instead they will carry on lying. There was an exisiting overtime limit of 70 hours per month at Dentsu at the time Ms Takahashi was working there and the company reported her overtime as 69.5 hours per month in the month before she died. She actually worked far more than that.

At Dentsu, and many other companies, those who exceed the maximum overtime limit are just recorded as having worked the maximum amount. Any extra work is not recorded. The companies lie, everyone knows they lie, and nothing is done.

Nothing will change at Dentsu and nobody will be punished. The only way to change things is to enforce the law on overtime payments and to punish those who break the law with massive fines. Don't expect the LDP to do anything about it, other than hold meetings.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

It's NOT hard work.

It's not DENTSU.

It IS a person or persons who were on this girl's case.

Find out WHO it was.

This is just another kind of murder.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

Dentsu are hateful.

I will try to boycott them as much as I can from now on.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Public should boycott this company !

4 ( +6 / -2 )

This is NOT the only company which behave in this way. There are more name definitly.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I will try to boycott them as much as I can from now on.

You have no idea what you are talking about if you think you can boycott dentsu. Might as well stop posting here too.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Yeah I think Dentsu has something like 60% of the market share in marketing in Japan. A significant number of the commericals you see on TV, and advertisments you see out and about, are done by Dentsu.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

You have no idea what you are talking about if you think you can boycott dentsu.

Not sure what you mean.

It's called "choice".

I can choose Hakuhodo next time I want an advertisement made.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Workers in Japan ( and in other Asian countries) are at the mercy of their bosses. Even unionizing does not guarantee protection from exploitation given the low level of working-class militancy and toothless laws that make a mockery of workers' rights. In a just society bosses who drive their workers to suicide or karoshi would be looking at some serious jail time and society's opprobrium, but until we have created such a society we'll just have to sing along with John Lennon and imagine. This sad, cruel world is a torment for millions because too many of us, cowardly animals that we are, refuse to be our brothers' keeper.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Is Dentsu vulnerable to boycotts aimed at its clients?

This is the social networking age, after all ...

Also, how about poaching? Seems an opportunity for other companies to pick up staff.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Here's a suggestion: how about hiring more staff instead of making existing employees work unreasonable amounts of overtime?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

IMHO the biggest problems are the ideas that;

a/ time spent at work, rather than productivity, equals "dedication" and "loyalty" b/ a worker can't leave before their boss does c/ endless meetings, often with late start times, which don't actually decide anything, and often consist of listening to someone read a pages-long document out loud, which could easily be read outside of the meeting

As others have said, there is a LOT of wasted time in Japanese workplaces. Endless cups of tea, smoke breaks, and the like. Efficiency is not prized but rather seen as being lazy. I'd like to see a system where managers who create excessive overtime are punished by their companies instead of rewarded.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

One death is not going to make a difference. It's going to take a lot more people leaping off balconies for companies to be forced to do something about this.

People will not simply walk off their jobs either, as potential future employers will question your grit.

"So why did you leave your previous company?"

"They forced us to work heaps of overtime."

"Well, thanks for coming in, but no thanks."

On the plus side, working gobs of OT keeps the izakayas busy, as lot of employees head there to drown their misery in beer and highballs.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's called "choice".I can choose Hakuhodo next time I want an advertisement made.

You will have to stop watching TV, looking at billboards, electric signs, practically stop reading any Japanese publications, or advertising anywhere in the country. THAT is how much dentsu permeates society here.

Dentsu is the 5th largest advertising agency in the world, with revenues in the billions of dollars and is double the size of Hakuhodo.

And dont think for a second that Hakuhodo is any better than dentsu when it comes to how it treats it's employees.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

If an employee works more than 40 hours in a week, it is a failure of management.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Not sure what you mean.

It's called "choice".

I can choose Hakuhodo next time I want an advertisement made.

As someone who works in PR and marketing, I can tell you that this isn't possible. Dentsu (and to a lesser extent Hakuhodo) buy up huge chunks of media so that if you want to place an ad you quite literally have no choice but to go through them. Boycotting will mean your company isn't doing ads and therefore struggles to compete. Even if you don't use them for the creative they still have already bought all the media space for you to put your ad!

The only way this working culture will change is if we can collectively show that there is a big financial incentive for companies to send their employees home early. Things are slowly starting to change but unfortunately the old oyaji who call the shots are used to the old system. Progress is very much contingent on getting Japan to embrace the value of time and efficiency vs. pure hours that one's ass is in a seat.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

THAT is how much dentsu permeates society here.

I sometimes wonder about people who take every posting very literally and seriously, and who try to set themselves up as a font of all knowledge with every one of their own posts...

Are they like that in real life...?

One thing I've noticed is that they often they end up posting things which everybody already knows.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

limit overtime hours to 65 a month from November.

Fine this yakuza bread dodgy company please.... LIMIT overtime to only 65 hours? That is more than a week and a half pf work with no extra pay... something is seriously wrong here

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As someone who works in PR and marketing, I can tell you that this isn't possible. Dentsu (and to a lesser extent Hakuhodo) buy up huge chunks of media so that if you want to place an ad you quite literally have no choice but to go through them.

Now that's more interesting information from someone with real knowledge of the issue (as opposed to the wikipedia warriors).

Thanks.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Power harassment happens so much in my circles of friends and business dealings, that I've started to describe Japan as a "bullying society".

Just last month I convinced my partner to quit her job because I too was worried about her mental strength. She provided "free overtime" as a regular staff member because she would have more stress she said if she did not do the work. Talking to the Labour office did not help at all. Their answer was to quit rather than offer to look into the companies practices. In my discussions with my partner, I found the company is not following the labour rules - but I don't have confidence in reporting them to the labour office. Anyone know how to get the tax office and labour standards office to investigate a company to comply with the standard labour rules? Any experiences

PS I agree with other posters that the major problem is the government seems to also be bullying society here in not addressing this issue. A Yukimi Takahashi law needs to be discussed immediately on how to handle power harassment and clearly definite what power harassment is. I understand there is no definition in law in Japan. in so, could someone let me know.

More attention by the government and society is needed.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I sometimes wonder about people who take every posting very literally and seriously, and who try to set themselves up as a font of all knowledge with every one of their own posts... One thing I've noticed is that they often they end up posting things which everybody already knows.

How many people ever heard of Dentsu before this article was written? I wonder.

And believe it or not between myself and a few others here we actually do know a hell of a lot about Japan, Japanese business, the culture, etc and have probably forgotten more than many of the people here even know today!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@Yubaru Dentsu run everything in the media, it's not as unknown as you think.... the same reasoning is that not everyone knows that every single "talento" on TV belongs to a management company and it's near impossible to get onto TV without one.

Burning run all the "women talent" and Jonny's most of the guys... Both with heavy ties to Yakuza where they threaten the TV companies that if you don't book our "talent" you wont get them in the future.... Another reason why TV shows in Japan have so many of them on the one show... they buy in bulk...

Detsu is a by all means a true monopoly and shouldn't be able to do what they do, but the government wont touch them because they control the media.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Dentsu, along with Hakuhodo, serve as twin guardian shrine deities serving the needs and interests of the state, seen as synonomous with the needs of the people. In life, Matsuri’s hopes and dreams were sacrificed for what the higher execs of those firms deem to be the higher good; the enhancement of power. Many of the leading lights of Dentsu’s post war rise to prominence were former bureaucrats associated with the failed Manchuria colonisation schemes to whom the normal rules never did apply. Let us hope that her death is not in vain.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This is so sad to read about. My heart really goes out to the girl and her family. May she finally rest in peace.

Shame on Dentsu and other companies who follow similar practices. They deserve to be fully fleeced for their actions here and as irrational as it is, I truly believe they will reap their karma in this life or the next.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Boycott Dentsu and companies who do business with them

2 ( +2 / -0 )

People keep mistaking this limit of "65 hour a month" with "65 effective hours a month".

How nice their lives must be... To think that no one would ever do 65 hours overtime.

As a matter of fact it is 160 a month [40 a week] plus 65. Which means about 3 hours overtime a day, which is quite low for nowadays standards. Me? Zettai teiji. Never been bothered by threats.

I always believed that if a day has 24 hours. 8 is used to work, 8 for basic needs [sleep eat drink and bath] and 8 for whatever you want. This is the balance. It's not quite possible to achieve it, but, you can get very close to it.

May not be profitable but it's quite fun, as long as I don't have any Fancy plans for the future. Well i dont need them, Japan is quite a nice country to wander around anyways.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The reality is very bad. Dentsu is bad. The people at Dentsu are bad. I know this. It is hateful and I fear for any new graduate who joins them.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

We need to stop blaming Dentsu in all this. Sure they are the culprits this time but the issue is systemic. This hydra has many heads be that overtime, inefficiency in the office etc. but what's needed is a paradaigm shift away from the mentality that got japan to the bubble and towards one that embraces the reality of the world as created by the Internet.

Rather than boycott them (doesn't work since they own the media), instead we need to look for ways as a nation to increase productivity per hour while simultaneously accepting that there are limits to human attention. This latter point is key as it emphasizes the need for rest and relaxation to be a good worker.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I want this company to be made an example of so damned badly. I want it fined, sued, audited whatever it takes to scare other companies straight and see that treating your employees like inexhaustible machines is bad for business. I see what my wife's company does to her and it makes by blood boil.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

From talking to my Japanese friens, it seems that one of the problems seems to be that no one can leave until everyone has finished their work for the day. So people spend endlless hours waiting until they can go home. A dreadful waste of manpower.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites