Archive for ‘Medical Issues in Japan’

October 4, 2011

Supreme Court in Japan: Karoshi verdict after tragic work related suicide

Supreme Court in Japan: Karoshi verdict after tragic work related suicide

Olivier LeCourt and Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yuji Uendan tragically committed suicide after bouts of depression related to overwork and poor environmental conditions. Despite only being 23 years old he couldn’t take anymore and saw no way out. Therefore, depression, extreme tiredness, and poor working conditions tilted him over the edge.

This tragic incident happened in 1999 and after many years of wrangling the Tokyo High Court in 2009 ruled against Nikon Corp. and a Nagoya based temporary employment agency.  However, the verdict was contested and sent to the Supreme Court.

Nikon Corp. and the temporary employment agency disputed the verdict in 2009 because of several factors.  Therefore, the case continued to drag on but finally the Supreme Court has dismissed their objections and told both companies to pay 70 million yen to the mother of Yuji Uendan.

Misako Hida in her article called The Land of Karoshi comments that “The late Mr. Uendan had worked for nearly 16 months as an inspector of semiconductor producing equipment in the subdued yellowish light of a clean-room at a Nikon factory in Kumagaya, dressed from head to toe in a white dust-free garment. The young man was employed by the manufacturing contractor Nextar (currently known as Atest) and was temping at his employer’s client, Nikon, a major Japanese camera and optical equipment maker.”

“Uendan worked 11-hour rotating day and night shifts with overtime and extra business trips that brought his work hours to as long as 250 hours a month at times. In his final stretch of work at the factory, he had worked 15 straight days without a day off. He was suffering from stomachaches, insomnia, numbness of extremities. His weight had dropped 13 kilograms.”

On the fatal day when Yuji Uendan took his life he had wrote“The time I spent has been wasted” on a board. He committed suicide in his apartment in Kumagaya City, Saitama, after continuously working for 15 days. All warning signs were ignored including the loss of 13 kilograms, insomnia and issues related to depression.

“Karoshi” (death from overwork) is a serious problem in Japan because working long hours and having few holidays is putting too much pressure on many workers. Laws that have been passed are vague and open to manipulation and bullying and poor working conditions are other areas of problems in Japan.

The sad reality is that for the past decade more than 30,000 people commit suicide every year in Japan and this figure is much higher than the tragic tsunami which killed around 20,000 people.  Therefore, over 300,000 Japanese nationals have killed themselves in the last decade and while the factors will be complex and vary, it is clear that overwork is claiming the lives of many Japanese people.

Of course many Japanese companies protect workers but it is abundantly clear that many don’t. Also, many foreign companies which have tight regulations in Europe and North America about working long hours don’t apply the same standards in Japan. Therefore, Japanese companies and international companies are both exploiting the goodwill of Japanese workers.

Some individuals like Hiroshi Kawahito, Secretary General of the National Defence Council for Victims of Karoshi, believes that around 5,000 people a year commit suicide because of overwork. However, the real figure from karoshi related suicides each year is difficult to verify but the figure will indeed be high like Hiroshi Kawahito states.

In the article by Misako Hida it is stated that “Too much overtime, which virtually precludes worker use of paid vacations, is a serious issue,” says a lawyer, Kosuke Hori, who is previous Director General of the Labour Lawyers Association of Japan. Japan has not ratified any ILO worktime-related conventions, including Convention 132 concerning Holidays with Pay and Convention 1 concerning Hours of Work.”

“The domestic Labor Standards Law does not cap the amount of overtime under certain conditions. “When it comes to working hours,” Mr. Morioka writes in his book. “In Japan, nothing in the way of international labor standards exists.”

Therefore, the decision by the Supreme Court is very important and issues related to karoshi needs to be challenged because how many more victims will this claim before something is finally done?

The verdict is a stepping stone in the right direction but much more needs to be done in order to protect workers in Japan.

May 15, 2011

Psychological war of March 11 earthquake and tsunami: 9,500 people still missing

Psychological war of March 11 earthquake and tsunami: 9,500 people still missing

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake which unleashed the potent tsunami on March 11 in Japan is still hovering over the Tohoku region.  After more than two months you still have over 9,500 people who are still missing.

Added to this the nuclear cloud in Fukushima remains unresolved and while progress is being made it is not being made quick enough and radiation issues still persist.

Tokyo is virtually back to normal apart from electrical usage being down in order to preserve power.  However, trendy parts of Harajuku, Ikebukuro, Shibuya, and other popular destinations in Tokyo, are awash with shoppers and the Tohoku region seems like a million miles away.

The Japanese police force and the military Self-Defense Forces have been searching for months and they have done a sterling job because their task is very difficult.  The long-term psychological impact is still unknown but for many police officers and military personnel it must be severe.

After all, many dead bodies have been found and the impact of this on the mind is great.  Added to this, is the sad reality that many bodies have been unidentified and this will add to the psychological demands being put on both the police force and military.

For parents, children, brothers, sisters, grandparents, lovers, and friends; their nightmare is ongoing because of the uncertainty about the missing 9,500 people. 

Yes, it is clear that they are all presumed dead but in the back of the mind some people will still being clinging to hope.  The majority of people may accept that they will never see the missing person again and that their body may never be found.  However, humans are complex and some people will clutch at straws.

Sadly, it does appear that many people will never be identified and found. This will increase the psychological impact and without closure, then the future will continue to torment many people.

Therefore, for many people in the Tohoku region they are stuck in a time warp and without closure the impact will be increased dramatically.

May 2, 2011

Workers at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant under huge psychological pressure

Workers at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant under huge psychological pressure

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The conditions for workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are severe and since March 11 a brave band of workers have been working around the clock in order to prevent a nuclear meltdown and endless radiation leaks.  They have managed to prevent a nuclear meltdown but radiation issues and continuing uncertainty is leading to psychological problems.

Therefore, stress related issues are building up and this is endangering the physical and mental state of workers who are based at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

While most of northeastern Japan is starting to slowly recover and great emphasis is being put on restructuring and shared support amongst locals, volunteers, the local government, and central government.  The same is not happening at the Daiichi nuclear plant because these workers have to rely solely on themselves and fellow co-workers in order to continue daily.

The mental strain must be enormous because radiation is an invisible threat and if embassy officials in Tokyo were gripped by fear, which led to many embassy officials fleeing like “scared rabbits;” then spare a thought for people who have been working around the clock since the crisis began on March 11.

While people in comfortable seats have been rebuking TEPCO for the crisis and “mainly rich kids” demonstrate about nuclear power in major cities.  The same people who condemn rarely give a thought to workers who are facing death and who are willing to sacrifice themselves, in order to protect Japanese nationals from a calamity in Fukushima and the surrounding region.  

Japanese politicians are no better because petty point scoring is in vogue like usual and while Prime Minister Naoto Kan is trying his level best; the opposition, and fellow members of the Democratic Party of Japan, are busying themselves for engineering another political meltdown.

The workers at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima do not have the same luxuries and they can’t afford to go around with placards and demanding new change.  Nor can they afford to become involved in petty infighting at work.

Instead they have to build a bunker mentality in order to work long hours and in such extreme and dangerous conditions.  They knew during the first few weeks that anything was possible and this applies to the nuclear plant going into meltdown or blowing up like the ill-fated Chernobyl plant.

At the same time they are amidst radiation and while being in protective clothing may offer some solace, it does not offer much because it is clear that several workers have been exposed to high doses of radiation. 

The long-term impact is also uncertain and with each passing day this will create even more psychological damage.  Therefore, not surprisingly a bunker mentality is being used in order to block out so much pressure, stress, and fear.

Takeshi Tanigawa, an Epidemiologist, commented about the huge burden that these workers face.  He highlighted dehydration, insomnia, high blood pressure, depression, heart problems, and other important side effects. 

It is reported that 245 workers are working at the stricken nuclear plant and firefighters, police officers, and the military are also based in and around the site.

According to Tanigawa the workers do not have access to baths, fresh food, any privacy, and the long hours and work pressure is creating many negative side effects.  

External pressure is also building up because many loved ones want the workers to return home.  Also, some workers have lost family members and their homes and the siege like mentality must be building up.

Added to this is the fact that other workers do not want to replace them, therefore, it appears that everything depends on them and this is also leading to huge pressure.

One worker stated, in confidence, that “We are shocked by the high level of radiation….I work at the plant just because I want to save my hometown……We are the ones who have worked at the nuclear plant all this time.  Who else would take the job now if we don’t?

In the coming weeks the natural temperature will increase and the hot and humid conditions will lead to further problems.

Golden Week may be a time for the majority of people to refresh themselves but for the workers at the stricken nuclear plant they will be battling away and doing their level best in order to salvage the stricken plant.

These brave souls need more support and living conditions need to improve and quickly because their share of the burden is too high.

The psychological factor is severe and the threat of radiation can invade the mind especially when you have no release mechanisms in order to escape.

April 26, 2011

Suicide in Japan is a nightmare and post earthquake depression is a worry

Suicide in Japan is a nightmare and post earthquake depression is a worry

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Japan and the suicide problem

 Suicide in Japan is a major problem and more than 30,000 individuals will take their life this year.  This figure is astonishingly high and it appears that little is being done in order to highlight this serious and complex issue.

All nations have negatives and positives and obviously some nations are blighted by endless wars and poverty.  However, Japan is relatively prosperous but like any nation you will have pockets of poverty and regional gaps are noticeable. 

The image of Japan is one of being high-tech, modern, prosperous, and a nation state which is based on democracy and religious freedom.  This is all true and the same applies to the low crime rate because in the whole of Tokyo and throughout Japan; it is abundantly clear that crime rates are very low.

However, despite all the above mentioned positives it is factual that suicide is a major problem.  It is unbelievable to think that the earthquake and tsunami killed 28,000 people but by the end of 2011 more than 30,000 individuals in Japan will kill themselves.

It was even reported that a man who was 102 years old killed himself in Fukushima after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear radiation crisis.  He did not kill himself because of the radiation threat but instead he committed suicide because he did not want to leave the exclusion zone imposed around the nuclear plant.

Therefore, it appears that while some people suffer from depression on a regular basis and then decide to commit suicide; it is also true that “a quick trigger” is also responsible for many cases.

If you ask most people in Tokyo if they have been stuck on a train because of suicide and if you know somebody who killed themselves; then the overwhelming majority will state that they know someone who took their life and they have been stuck on the train because of the suicide crisis.

I have witnessed two people kill themselves in front of me and this applies to one man jumping to his death in Tobu Nerima.  The other was a young lady who suddenly jumped in front of the train at Harajuku train station. 

Therefore, the government, local government, and local agencies involved in suicide, are very worried about the effects of the earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing radiation problem in Fukushima.

Many fear that depression will take hold in some communities and people who reside far away from northeastern Japan may also feel the effects of the current prevailing conditions.

For the majority of people in Japan they are just getting on with their daily reality and of course the majority of people enjoy their high quality of life.

However, the 30,000 plus suicides a year is also factual and this is a yearly problem and the government, local government, families, friends, charities, and others; must not ignore this reality because the consequences are severe and each suicide also leads to greater stress and sadness within the respective family or circle of friends.

The factor behind suicide is complex because you have so many variables.  However, certain common factors do prop up and this applies to work pressure, unemployment, bullying, relationship failure, feeling crushed by consensus, depression, low esteem, financial concerns, caring for a loved one who is very sick, and other important reasons.

The “salary-man” syndrome is clearly problematic because the numbers of men who kill themselves within the “trapped world” of work and stress is very high amongst the 30,000 plus people who commit suicide each year in Japan.

Many young teenagers and adults have also gone into their shell and hikikomori is a real social problem.  Hikikomori is based on a heavy school load; social pressure; the need to conform; over protection within the family; unable to communicate properly; unable to understand reality because of over reliance on gadgets and computers; and other factors.

Suicide and hikikomori is also a problem in South Korea and regional factors in northeast Asia based on culture, thinking, and how suicide is seen, must play an important role.

The role of Buddhism and reincarnation, and the indigenous faith, Shinto, needs to be studied because it appears that suicide is not deemed to be a sin which leads to the gates of hell. Traditional Christianity was anti-suicide and it was believed that the individual would suffer in the after-life but Buddhism is rather vague on this issue.

It must be remembered that in Vietnam, and other mainly Buddhist nations, that some Buddhist priests burned themselves to death by self immolation during times of heightened political tensions.

Also, many famous writers in Japan like Yukio Mishima were fascinated by suicide and this applies to the cultural aspect of suicide.  Therefore, Yukio Mishima, and others, believed that the Bushido way could lead to a noble death and the kamikaze during World War Two will have fused this alongside enormous pressure from the military.

This may seem distant from modern Japan but the “psyche” within a nation is hard to change and outward appearances can be deceptive. 

Individualism is also seen to be negative within the workplace and expressing thinking is not always deemed to be positive when it applies to management or challenging the group mentality.  Confrontation is deemed to be socially rude and vented up pressure is not easy to release.

Therefore, for many workers who take their own life it appears that this factor, alongside long working hours, bullying, and a feeling of helplessness; is premeditating the soul.

Given this, then the recent earthquake and tsunami could create more depression and feeling of helplessness. If this happens, then the fear is that suicide numbers will increase later this year.

I have not mentioned all the factors behind suicide because the factors are many and again it must be stated that the majority of people in Japan are very happy.

Also, the issue of Buddhism and reincarnation being linked to suicide is controversial and some believe that you have a link but others deny this.

However, the “cold fact” is that over 30,000 people will commit suicide this year and alongside the 28,000 people who perished because of the earthquake and tsunami; then a lot of families, friends, co-workers, and other, will be affected by the suicide crisis in Japan which is not abating. (please visit)

March 17, 2011

British scientific adviser: nothing to fear outside of Fukushima exclusion zone

British scientific adviser: nothing to fear outside of Fukushima exclusion zone

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times 

Radiation checks in Japan
Radiation checks in Japan

The British Embassy in Tokyo on March 15th invited the Government’s Chief Scientific Professor, Sir John Beddington, to answer deep and difficult questions related to the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  Sir John Beddington replied and gave detailed information about the most likely outcome and his opinion about events which have been reported in the press.

This article is based on the questions and answers which were given.  Therefore, it is hoped that people will listen to Sir John Beddington and heed his advice because a lot of information and disinformation appears to be going around and this is adding to the confusion of Fukushima.

The Japanese government implemented a 20km exclusion zone from the Fukushima nuclear plant and for people who reside between 20 and 30kms the advice was that people should keep their windows closed and stay inside.

According to Sir John Beddington this advice is proportionate and appropriate to the current events in Fukushima.  Therefore, he is vindicating the Japanese government and the answer and question session will now be scrutinized in greater detail.

The First Minister at the British Embassy in Tokyo, David Fitton, was the moderator during the teleconference which took place with Sir John Beddington.

David Fitton started by commenting that it was important that people listened to the views of an expert and his fellow colleagues because it helps the British Embassy in Tokyo to express much needed advice.  He also acknowledged that guidance was also being provided by Japanese professionals but stressed that guidance in the United Kingdom was important “on scientific, nuclear, geological and other issues.”

Sir John Beddington immediately focused on the crux of the matter and he stated that the Japanese are trying to keep the reactors cool by pumping sea water that will keep the temperature down; that’s their first line of defence.  And up to now that’s been working… reasonably well.  Basically the reactor lies within a large containment vessel. But if it isn’t cooled particularly well, then the pressure in the containment vessel goes up and it reaches a level where it can’t cope.”  

Sir John Beddington continues by stating that At that stage the Japanese authorities deliberately release a mixture of steam and hydrogen gas and so on into the atmosphere.  This is really quite modest amounts of radioactive material and it’s not likely, by and large, one shouldn’t be concerned about it.”

He continued by stating that events had changed because one of the containment vessels appears to be somewhat cracked but the situation remains mainly the same.  Sir John Beddington also commented that the outcome of containing this situation led to“very limited amounts of radioactive material going out.”

Sir John Beddington agreed that the 20km exclusion zone was adequate but he did add that 30km would be extremely safe.  However, it is clear that he believes that the 20km exclusion zone is “sensible and proportionate.”

He then talked about the worst possible outcome and scenario if a “meltdown” actually happened.  Sir John Beddington commented that this would be serious, but, importantly, he stressed that this would only be serious for the local area surrounding the nuclear plant in Fukushima.

Even if a meltdown occurred and you had an explosion then the nuclear material would reach roughly 500 meters into the air.  If you add this, he continued, to negative weather conditions which blew into the direction of Greater Tokyo and then rainfall would bring it down then would this then create a major problem? 

Sir John Beddington was clear about the answer because he stated “The answer is unequivocally no.  Absolutely no issue. The problems are within 30km of the reactor.”

After this he commented about Chernobyl and how the situation was much more dramatic because radiation from this nuclear plant lasted for months but even then the 30km exclusion zone was adequate because people outside of this had no problems with radiation.   He also stressed that the problem with Chernobyl was because people kept on drinking the water and eating vegetables within the area of contamination.

Sir John Beddington stressed “…what I would really re-emphasise is that this is very problematic for the area and the immediate vicinity and one has to have concerns for the people working there. Beyond that 20 or 30 kilometres, it’s really not an issue for health.” 

Many other questions were asked and answered and a link to the entire transcript will be given at the end of this article.  However, at all times, it appears that the British point of view is that Tokyo is very safe and the same applies to all areas outside of the exclusion zone of the Fukushima nuclear plant but 30km was mentioned to be extremely safe, therefore, the exclusion zone may be added if developments become severe and meltdown actually happens.   – 

Please read the entire transcript at the above given link.

The British Embassy in Tokyo

March 11, 2011

Six children reported dead after Vaccinations in Japan

Six children reported dead after Vaccinations in Japan

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Sixth child dies after a vaccination in Japan

Sixth child dies after a vaccination in Japan

More grim news was released by Japan’s health ministry on March 10 because it was announced that a sixth child died recently after receiving vaccinations.  The spate of deaths is high and the tragic loss of these children is now under investigation.

The health ministry informed people that the sixth child was between 6 months old and one year and had died after taking a vaccination.  Clearly alarm bells are ringing because the spate of deaths is high and it appears that something is clearly going wrong. 

At the moment each case is being scrutinized on merit because it is dangerous to jump to conclusions.  After all, vaccinations are needed in order to protect children from deadly viruses but the death total is worryingly high and parents will respond to events in order to protect their children. 

However, the health ministry does not want to alarm the people of Japan because vaccinations are essential in safeguarding children from terrible infections which either weaken the immune system or leads to death.  Therefore, it is essential that the ministry does everything in its power to keep people informed and to show that measures are being taken in order to contain the problem and see where the cause is coming from.

Therefore, the ministry announced that vaccinations made by Pfizer and Sanofi-Aventis have been suspended.  At the moment it is unclear if it is a contamination problem, a mutant virus within Japan, a freak of nature, or a host of other possibilities therefore the government is acting promptly in order to reassure the general public.

The latest child died after receiving Sanofi Pasteur’s ActHIB in combination with another vaccination.  The other vaccination was a DPT shot which protects the child from diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus and this is standard procedure.

Prevenar which is made by Pfizer was also suspended alongside Sanofi Pasteur which is made by Sanofi-Aventis.  This was done by the ministry because of the high number of deaths but clearly it is still a mystery at the moment and you have no main indicator behind what is causing these deaths, apart from young children dying after such a short period after taking vaccinations.

Vague information was released that three of the six children had pre-existing heart conditions but how severe these conditions were or if this is connected with their deaths after taking vaccinations is still unclear.

Also, some children died after receiving the vaccinations alone or after taking a combination with other drugs.  Therefore, the situation is very complex and at the moment the situation remains shrouded in mystery.

The ministry is conducting a major detailed investigation because it was announced by a group of medical experts that they could not find any specific links.

Therefore, the medical profession and the government are taking precautions and this is why both drugs have been suspended.  However, it could be that the drugs were not the source of these deaths and the factors may be isolated factors or a link may be found.

Sadly, at the moment the people of Japan can only wait and see and clearly the health ministry is worried about scaremongering because vaccinations are essential.