Every year, people move to Japan to work or study because it has such an attractive culture. The art, philosophy and manners are often envied around the world. Japan, however, like all other countries, is not perfect and one area that really stands out in that regard is the work culture. This is usually one of the biggest challenges for foreigners trying to assimilate to life in Japan. I know that it was for me. I used to work at a job that seemed to suck the life out of me due to bad business practices. I was manipulated financially and emotionally into working under illegal circumstances. Once I looked up my rights, I realized that I didn’t have to put up with such abhorrent behavior. The language and visas might be difficult, but sometimes workplaces can be downright intolerable.
Of course, most Japanese workplaces are fine (if a little more intense than their Western counterparts) but a minority ruin the country’s reputation by not following labor laws and abusing workers. Japanese media have nicknamed these places of employment as burakku kigyou (ブラック企業) or “black corporations” or “black businesses.” These companies, rather than the manufacturing “sweatshops” that may come to mind, tend to revolve around office work.
These are categorized by abusive working conditions such as unpaid overtime, harassment by superiors, failure to pay salaries and other deplorable tactics.
What is a black company?
The term was coined by IT workers who were some of the first people to complain about their companies’ abusive policies online in the early 2000s. Because of the anonymity of forums, people were able to share how truly soul crushing their work was, sparking discussions of these issues in mainstream Japanese media. In fact, every year since 2012, companies have been nominated for “Most Evil Corporation” at the Black Company Awards (Japanese) by a team of anonymous journalists. While you might think the list of companies comprises lesser-known organizations (it does), it also includes some heavy hitters in the Japanese business world (for example, the 2017 list of nominees includes names such as Yamato Transport, Daiwa House, Taisei Construction, NHK, Niigata Municipal Hospital, Panasonic, Inazaya supermarket chain, as well as other various moving, pharmaceutical and manufacturing companies).
Often people find themselves working for these companies and don’t know how to escape. An uncomfortable truth is that for some — the only escape is death. In fact, workers in Japan routinely die from “overwork,” a phenomenon so unpleasantly common it has its own word in Japanese: karoshi. According to the health ministry, in fiscal 2016, there were 107 recognized cases of karoshi (deaths attributed to overwork) and 84 suicides and suicide attempts prompted by overwork. Some reports estimate the number of these types of deaths could be ten times higher.
Being trapped in a stressful, abusive situation is obviously not something anyone should wish on another person, so here is how to avoid horrible workplaces when job searching.
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