5

The social value of death

Karōshi (death from overwork) and suicide from psychological and physical pressures are current problems inside direct profit-making organizations (such as the company), as well as in organizations and institutions which are not directly profit-making but which serve the community (such as schools and local government). We can, however, recognize in these phenomena, which arise within modern organizations, problems which embrace traditional moral values and dilemmas.

In this chapter we present the ambivalence between the traditional moral values, which tend to act against the individual’s right to life inside organizations, and the structure and purpose of modern organizations. We focus our attention on the mechanisms of karōshi and suicide within the company in our attempt at understanding what lies behind death in Japanese society.

Derived from the unitary model 1 of the structure of the company organization, the Japanese company—like its Western counterparts—is a mechanism for increasing wealth and, in the process, for generating benefits in the form of profits for its shareholders, the ‘owners’ of the company. 2

In Japan, as in Britain, for example, a distinction exists between the company, in a strictly legal sense, and those individual members who make up the company. Upon formation, a Japanese company becomes a separate being with a legal personality having its own legal rights and duties. 3 A company is often referred to as kaisha hōjin (an artificial legal person) since it is created by a process other than birth. It is an organization which has a separate legal existence from its shareholders. It is treated as a juristic person in its own right, rather than a collective name for its shareholders.

As a company is an artificial person its activities must be carried on by its human members. Those individual members of a company

-71-

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The Right to Life in Japan
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Editor’s Preface vi
  • Figures and Tables viii
  • Preface ix
  • Conventions xi
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Law and Rights in Japan 5
  • 3 - Aspects of the Boundaries of Life 16
  • 4 - The Equality of the Right to Life 51
  • 5 - The Social Value of Death 71
  • 6 - Moral Value and Japanese Law 85
  • Notes 101
  • Bibliography 150
  • Index 166
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