Power Harassment Suicide at Sagawa Express

July 1, 2009

A former truck driver who was promoted to a low level management position at  the Sagawa Express package delivery company committed suicide recently. His wife is accusing Sagawa of bullying and power harassment which resulted in his suicide.

After being promoted, the 42 year old man began working from before 6am until after 10:30pm every working day, and from 3 to 4 hours a day on days that were designated days off. In addition to berated and having epithets yelled at him by his boss, his name was erased from the company name list, and he was called over the company loudspeaker without “san” being added to his name. (note: Not adding “san” or some other term to a person’s name in Japan is called “yobisute” which is extremely rude.  It is much ruder than just calling someone by their last name in the U.S.). He was also sent to orientation sessions for new employees several times after being told he was “not needed” (again in front of other employees).

On May 16th and 17th he took a few days off citing depression. He returned to work on May 18th, and emailed his wife who was in Tokyo on a business trip. He wrote that there was no way he could solve his problems at work. He thanked her for everything, and told her that he had been happy. After sending the email, he jumped off the top of a local supermarket building to his death. I really wish the guy had known that his wife would fight for him as she is now. Just introducing the charges of power harassment must have taken courage for her. In a working environment where it is common for superiors to get angry and yell at workers, where various kinds of abuse and harassment are common place, it can especially be a problem if there is also no way for workers to report such problems.

I know of women who worked for companies, became pregnant and told their bosses thinking they would be congratulated. The bosses in this case asked them to quit immediately. When the women asked to be allowed the legal allowed time off for having a baby, the boss said something like “I guess I have no choice, but when you come back from your vacation I’m going to make it hell for you to work here.” In the end both women quit their jobs then. (The two cases I have personal knowledge of were in two very different industries, two different sized companies with near identical results.)

A lot of what I have seen in Japan would send the boss into anger management classes, but in Japan it’s common. I’ve even heard people suggest that the worker who was yelled at and embarrassed might take small opportunities to get back at the boss to make themselves feel better. Again, in my experience this is not the case at all. A scary boss is a scary boss, and if a worker makes things harder there is a danger that the boss will realize what happened and come down even harder on the worker. Sadly the problem is that there is not a large system in place to protect these workers or an easier way for people to be able to lodge complaints or work out disputes. I hope the wife of the Sagawa express worker fights to the end leading to some kind of legislation that will provide people in similar situations with an outlet, a means to take action, or a place to get counseling.

The cynical side of me worries that the woman will must settle for monetary compensation and Sagawa (often rumored to be rife with bullying, sexual harassment, and abuse of power by superiors) will never have to be investigated.


1 Dave July 1, 2009 at 11:45 pm

I read about this story a couple of days ago, and my first thought was, “They will never pin a power harassment suicide on him”. That would then open the door for a huge number of claims and potentially a big change in business practices throughout Japan. The people involved in these cases know this and so you’re probably right: a monetary deal will be struck with the woman, the incident forgotten about and everything swept under the carpet.

Pretty shocked to read your comments about those two people you know personally and their experiences. You read about this and you realise Japan is years ahead of other developed countries in some aspects, it is decades behind in others.

2 jay July 2, 2009 at 7:24 am

Teachers have pretty strong unions in Japan and tend to stick together, but there really aren’t a lot of means by which workers can fight back. You also tend to have trouble finding people who are willing to fight for the sake of a principle.

I know of a man who was basically berated and ordered to quit. He refused, was berated again, then offered a buy out to quit his job because of some complaints about him. The union offered to support him but he just wanted it all to end, took the money, said goodbye and started working part time somewhere while using the buy out money to try to live off of the currency exchange market (which seems to be experiencing a little popularity among middle aged to older people in Japan though I have no figures to base this on).

3 rakesh July 8, 2009 at 11:32 am

These stories give me goosebumps.
Its hard to believe that organizations, governments and people allow such incidents to occur.