How the English word “karoshi” was created

Do English words originate from Japanese?

It seems that there are over 400 words that were originally Japanese but have been borrowed into English.

That’s quite a large number, isn’t it?

Among the words that originated in Japanese but have been anglicized, there are some, like “kaizen,” that the Japanese can take pride in.

This means recognizing internationally acclaimed aspects of Japan, such as “Let’s learn from the good aspects of Japan” or “Japan’s manufacturing technology is at the top level in the world.”

On the flip side, there are also words that serve as cautionary examples.

This article introduces one representative example of such words.

How did the English word “karoshi” come about?

Having been a salaryman for a long time, I believe I understand the sorrow of being used by others within an organization.

If one can get by with just feeling a sense of sorrow, they might still be considered fortunate.

When I frequently come across news related to “karoshi” (death from overwork) in the workplace, I wonder about the state of this country.

In companies where irreversible cases of “karoshi” have occurred, were the managers and executives too preoccupied with protecting themselves?

However, the sight of them offering excuses that seem to rub salt into the wounds of the bereaved families is unbearable to witness.

The successive administrations of the Liberal Democratic Party, which have been supporters of black companies, have promoted policies that escalate the exploitation of workers.

As a result, countless black companies have emerged in Japan, and “karoshi” has become a globally recognized term.

Consequently, the English word “karoshi,” romanized from the Japanese pronunciation of “過労死,” came into existence.

How is “karoshi” used in English-speaking countries?

It is reported that “karoshi” was first included in the Oxford Dictionary in 2002.

Its history as an English word is relatively short.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online, it is defined as “death brought on by overwork or job-related exhaustion” – reflecting the strains imposed by Japan’s strong work ethic.

In an article dated July 13, 2008, in The Washington Post titled “Japan’s Killer Work Ethic,” the following passage can be found:

TOKYO — Death from too much work is so commonplace in Japan that there is a word for it — karoshi. There is a national karoshi hotline, a karoshi self-help book and a law that funnels money to the widow and children of a salaryman (it’s almost always a man) who works himself into an early karoshi for the good of his company.

Did the word meaning “karoshi” not exist in English-speaking countries originally?

If it did, it should have been in use, but apparently, it was not.

Foreigners recognized the phenomenon as something unusual in Japan, and they felt the need to express it in a single word.

However, no existing English word captured the concept precisely.

Hence, “karoshi,” romanized from Japanese pronounciation, became the term used in English.

Borrowing words from Japanese into English is not always favorable, and “karoshi” is undoubtedly a case of a less honorable nature.

However, if we, as Japanese people, make efforts to eliminate the tragedy represented by “karoshi,” the day may come when the English word “karoshi” disappears.

Conversely, if the current situation is left unaddressed or worsens, there is a possibility that “karoshi” could become a widely recognized English word in any dictionary.

How ChatGpt describs “karoshi”:

The following is the output of “ChatGpt”.

“Karoshi” is a Japanese word that means “death from overwork”. The term was coined in the 1970s to describe the phenomenon of people dying as a result of working excessively long hours, often in highly stressful environments. The typical victims of karoshi are middle-aged male employees, who work long hours and have high levels of stress.

Karoshi is a serious issue in Japan, where the culture of hard work and dedication to one’s company or organization is deeply ingrained. In recent years, there have been efforts to address the issue, such as limiting work hours and encouraging employees to take time off for rest and relaxation. However, karoshi remains a significant problem in Japan and other countries where overwork is common.

The term has gained international recognition and has been used to describe similar phenomena in other countries, such as “death by overwork” in China and “burnout” in Western countries.


If you are working for a company and want to prevent death from overwork, self-defense is crucial.

  1. If you want to somehow improve your current situation at the company:

It may be challenging to do it on your own, so using external labor standards offices could be helpful.

  1. If you are considering quitting your current job and seeking new employment:

Job placement agencies are free, and you can easily register online. This allows you to take action casually while also gathering information.

  1. If you are unable to quit your current job and are struggling:

Morality and laws often do not apply to black companies. They will use various tactics to threaten, deceive, and continue exploiting their workers.They may even violate the rights of salarymen to resign.Therefore, retirement support services have become popular.

In any case, a way forward can only be paved through action.

Rather than sitting and waiting for death, protect yourself by taking concrete steps.