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  • Japan Times & Kyodo: Foreign “trainees” dying at rate of two to three a month, takes two years for one to be declared “from overwork” (karoushi), more than a quarter from “unknown causes”

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on July 6th, 2010

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    Hi Blog. First the articles, then my comments:


    27 foreign trainees died in Japan in FY 2009
    Japan Today/Kyodo News Tuesday 06th July 2010, 06:44 AM JST, Courtesy of Yokohama John

    TOKYO Twenty-seven foreign nationals who came to Japan for employment under a government-authorized training program died in fiscal 2009, the second worst figure on record, government officials said Monday. Most of the workers who died in the year that ended in March were in their 20s to 30s, officials of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

    Of the 27, nine died of brain or heart diseases, four died while working, three died by suicide, three died in bicycle accidents and the remainder died from unknown causes, the officials said.

    By country, 21 came from China, three from Vietnam, two from the Philippines and one from Indonesia, they said.

    The number was the second largest, following the 35 foreign nationals who died in fiscal 2008. This could trigger moves toward revising the government program, first launched in 1993, as a number of irregular practices have recently been observed, such as having foreign trainees work for long hours with below-minimum wages.

    Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer who is an expert on the issue, said, ‘‘Many trainees who died of brain or heart diseases could have actually died from overwork, while those who killed themselves could have committed suicide induced by overwork.’’

    COMMENT: Taste the ironies in this article. First, how in 2009, the death of 27 “Trainees” (i.e. people brought over by the GOJ who as people allegedly “in occupational training” don’t qualify as “workers” (roudousha) entitled to labor law protections) is only the SECOND worst figure on record. Second, how we have close to a third (as in eight NJ) of the total dying of “unknown causes” (as if that’s a sufficient explanation; don’t they have autopsies in Japan to fix that? Oh wait, not always.) Third, how about the stunning ignorance of the sentence, “a number of irregular practices have recently been observed, such as having foreign trainees work for long hours with below-minimum wages”. If the Kyodo reporter had bothered to do research of his media databases, he’d realize it’s hardly “recent” at all. And it’s not being fixed, despite official condemnation in 2006 of the visa regime as “a swindle” and death after death (at a rate two to three per month) racking up. Karoushi was a big media event way back when when Japanese were dying of it. Less so it seems when NJ are croaking from it.

    Now for the second article (excerpt):


    ‘Karoshi’ claims first foreign trainee
    The Japan Times, Saturday, July 3, 2010, Courtesy of JK

    MITO, Ibaraki Pref. (Kyodo) A labor office in Ibaraki Prefecture will acknowledge that a Chinese national working as an intern at a local firm under a government-authorized training program died from overwork in 2008, marking the first foreign trainee “karoshi” death from overwork, sources said Friday.

    The male trainee, Jiang Xiaodong, had worked since 2005 at Fuji Denka Kogyo, a metal processing firm in the city of Itako, Ibaraki Prefecture, but died of cardiac arrest in June 2008 in company housing at age 31.

    He worked more than 100 hours overtime in his last month, the Kashima labor standards inspection office said.

    Jiang’s relatives are separately claiming he worked more than 150 hours overtime in his second year and after. However, he was only given two days off in a month, they claimed.

    According to a group of lawyers trying to raise the issue of the trainee program’s abuse by many employers as a source of cheap labor, this will be the first intern karoshi. The lawyers also accuse the government of having lax oversight of trainee working conditions.

    Rest at

    COMMENT CONTINUED: So it only took about two years for “a labor office” to admit that a NJ “trainee” had been worked to death, given the hours he worked that were a part of the record? Gee whiz, what Sherlocking! Lax oversight indeed. How many more people have to die before this exploitative and even deadly system is done away with? Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    5 Responses to “Japan Times & Kyodo: Foreign “trainees” dying at rate of two to three a month, takes two years for one to be declared “from overwork” (karoushi), more than a quarter from “unknown causes””

    1. crustpunker Says:

      It’s nice that the powers that be in this country continue to turn a blind eye to abusive “training programs” In typically short sighted fashion, Japan continues to reinforce the idea that this is NOT a good place to work for foreigners When really they should and NEED to be trying to attract foreign workers. At the very least to do all the sanK jobs that no Japanese wants to do.I believe that workers from other countries will eventually start to avoid coming here. “Ye shall reap as ye shall sow”
      Right now all Japan seems to sowing is the seeds of discontent.

      I would love to see the media outrage here if there were a similar story involving Japanese nationals being treated in a similar fashion in a foreign country. Can anyone perhaps find an example of this anywhere?

    2. Norik Says:

      Is this known in China/Vietnam/Indonesia?
      If yes, why do their governments keep cooperating to this abusive program? Why haven’t they taken measures against brokers in their countries who are involved in this, I would call it human trafficing?Why did more and more trainees keep comming, if there have been karoushi since 2008 (or even earlier?).
      Someone on your blog mentioned before that 70000yen a month even in horrible working/livin conditions is much more that many in China would get, therefore the trainees accept these conditions in order to support their families. I suspect the same situation with the Vietnamese or Indonesian Trainees…I wonder why would anyone put their health and life at stake, especially a citizen of the world’s 2nd economically developed country, for such miserable wage.
      Japanese government turns blind eye to the slavery inside its own country (like to many other things).We’ve talked so much about this when we discussed Sour Strawberries. But I would like to look also at the other side -what would happen, if it was an American, or French, or Brit, or Australian who had died from karoushi while working/living in inhumane conditions. Why isn’t the trainee program offered to US, Canadian, German or Spanish citizen?

      — ‘Cos they won’t work as cheap. Or even as cheaply as promised by the GOJ before they get here.

    3. Paulo Says:

      NHK links


      7月2日 12時11分

    4. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      I’m trying to find out how many of the deaths were men and how many were women. It’s reasonably well-known that over 90% of work-related deaths (and work-related suicide) among Japanese are men; how about with foreign trainees?

      The articles contain breakdowns by age and country, but not by gender.

      In an age where companies are continually encouraged to promote more women and get them into management positions, we must not forget that most of the people from whom work demands the ultimate sacrifice are men. They deserve respect.

      How about with these trainees? Was this group over 90% men also?

    5. John (Kostiuk) Says:

      On a related note… (working conditions likely being one factor for leaving for some):

      “Number of registered foreigners marks 1st fall since 1961
      Tuesday 06th July, 09:41 PM JST

      TOKYO —
      The number of registered foreign residents of Japan declined 31,000 from a year earlier to around 2.186 million as of the end of 2009, marking the first year-on-year fall since 1961, the Justice Ministry said Tuesday. The ministry’s immigration bureau attributed the fall to a decline in job offers in areas with manufacturing businesses, including automakers, amid the global recession.

      The number of foreign residents came to 674,000 in the first survey in 1959 before falling to 640,000 in the second survey in 1961, after which it continued to increase, topping 2 million in 2005, according to the bureau. By prefecture, Aichi, the home of auto giant Toyota Motor Corp., saw the largest decline with a fall of 13,600 from the year before to 215,000, followed by Shizuoka, where the number fell 9,800 to 93,000. There was a significant drop in the number of Brazilian nationals, the third-largest foreign population in Japan, from around 312,000 to 267,000.

      The number of foreign residents increased in the Tokyo metropolitan area, including Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, mostly because the urban region still attracts workers for food service industries, according to the bureau.”

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