Public broadcaster NHK revealed earlier this month that the 2013 death of one of its reporters, Miwa Sado, was recognized as death by overwork. According to NHK, the case wasn’t disclosed out of respect for the wishes of her bereaved family. However, Sado’s parents strongly deny the account, saying NHK’s behavior afterward killed their daughter a second time.
Following the congestive heart failure death of Sado, caused by what a government investigation in 2014 found to be stress and chronic sleep deprivation, her mother said she spent her days blaming herself for failing to see the signs at a press conference on October 5, weekly tabloid Friday reported (Nov. 3).
“After Miwa died, that person who I used to be was gone,” said the mother of Sado, who was joined by her husband as she cried. “Sharp objects and anything that could be used as rope were hidden in our home. My husband and our children would take turns watching over me. I continue to blame myself — why wasn’t I able to notice [the problems facing] my most beloved daughter? There will never come a day when I can laugh from my heart.”
“Hardly an ace”
Sado, 31, was found dead at her residence in July 2013. A labor standards office in Shibuya Ward found in May 2014 that the reporter clocked 159 hours of overtime in the one-month period before her death.
According to the government, a person who works more than 100 hours of overtime over a one-month period is at risk of developing health problems, including related to the brain and heart, that could lead to karoshi, or death due to overwork.
Sado’s father told the tabloid that he remembered seeing a colleague from her team during a Buddhist prayer ceremony to observe 100 days since her passing.
“I remember my wife telling them that Miwa was the ace in our family,” Sado’s father said. “And then they pulled out their day planner packed to the brim [with plans] as they said, ‘Someone who’s a poor planner who dies after failing to manage their time is hardly an ace.’”
“Keeping lid” on case
NHK said in statements that the broadcaster refrained from making the case public out of respect for the wishes of her bereaved family.
On October 5, NHK chairman Ryoichi Ueda said, “I heard [Sado’s parents] didn’t want the case to be made public.”
Sado’s family has harbored deep distrust toward the organization, according to an acquaintance of Sado’s.
“Her parents long harbored distrust toward NHK, considering how they weren’t even given an official an apology until September of this year,” the acquaintance told the tabloid. “I remember her parents saying NHK was trying to keep a lid [on the karoshi case].”
Killing daughter twice
Subjected to abusive language, with even the reason for concealing the case being painted over, Sado’s parents categorically deny NHK’s claims they wanted to avoid public disclosure — to them, it felt like NHK was killing their daughter twice.
Takaaki Hattori, professor emeritus of mass communications at Rikkyo University, said, “[NHK] ought to properly investigate and make details public faster, so this is complete negligence.”
“NHK is a news organ that is held to a higher level of responsibility than your average business, and is also a public business entity that is allowed to collect licensing fees under the law,” Hattori said. “I believe those like the chairman and director should bear responsibility.”
The government has been attempting to improve working conditions at workplaces after the widely covered suicide of a female employee at advertising firm Dentsu in 2015 was officially recognized as death by overwork.
Dentsui employee Matsuri Takahashi, 24, jumped to her death from her dormitory on December 25, 2015.
In October 2016, the family said the Tokyo Labor Bureau found that records showed she clocked 130 hours of overtime in October and 99 hours in November with constant late nights and work on what should have been her days off.
She tweeted about days where she would only get two hours of sleep and that she “would rather die if this went on” and “death would be bliss.”