Dentsu, the world’s largest agency, along with smaller Japanese
shops, is finding to its cost that the long hours required of its
employees can actually kill.
A recent high court ruling in Tokyo rejected Dentsu’s claim it held no
responsibility for the suicide in 1991 of an employee, Ichiro Oshima,
24. The high court upheld a previous ruling that Oshima suffered from
depression caused by exhaustion resulting from extraordinarily long
The court heard how Oshima regularly worked past 2am for half the
Most overtime shifts went on until after 6am. The remarkably resilient
Oshima went back home only to change clothes. In July 1991, he finally
snapped and told his boss: ’I wake up after only two hours’ sleep; I
cannot function any more as a human being.’ And so it went for thousands
in the ad industry with no-one batting a sagging eyelid - until now.
For years, large influential companies have been able to flout the
labour laws because of the influence they have over the Japanese
Following the suicide at Dentsu, the Government hasn’t come down hard on
agencies but it has put pressure on them to introduce overtime pay.
The Government, the unions and the agencies are acutely aware of how
difficult it will be to stop Japan’s labour-intensive ad industry
working itself to death.
Hakuhodo, Japan’s number-two shop, is a typical unreconstructed
It is still a top-heavy organisation with numerous layers of senior
A large number of these old men, however, are neither managing nor
producing much, so their paycheques drain the agency’s cashflow, causing
a shortage of labour on the account executive level.
Agencies are afraid legislation will force them to cut employees’ hours
(which often range from 100 to 160 hours per month on top of the daily
eight-hour grind) and make them uncompetitive. Until the implementation
of such laws, Japanese adfolk can at least comfort themselves with the
knowledge that the coming overtime payments will ensure them a decent,
if premature, burial.