In Depth

Japanese monk sues temple saying work gave him depression

Buddhist looking for £57,400 in damages after he said he had to work sometimes for two months without a break

A Japanese monk is suing his temple, claiming he was forced to work incredibly long hours catering to tourists and that the heavy workload gave him depression.

The monk, in his 40s, is seeking 8.6m yen (£57,400) from his temple on Mount Koya, a world heritage site also known as Koyasan, “which is regarded as one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Japan”, says The Guardian.

The plaintiff began working at the temple in 2008 and became depressed around December 2015, according to his lawyer Noritake Shirakura.

“If you work as a monk, too often you work without work-hour management,” Shirakura told AFP. “You provide labour, but you are told it's part of religious training. And if it's training, you must endure even it causes you significant hardship.”

“Through this case, we will argue that such a notion is outdated,” he said.

A local labour standards supervision office “has already recognised his overwork, confirming he once worked for at least a month without a day off”, says The Japan Times.

According to the complaint, his schedule included starting preparing for guests and tourists at 5am each day, before taking part in morning prayers at the temple’s shukubo, a lodging built for monks and worshippers. The paper adds that the complainant “sometimes worked late into the night attending to guests and fulfilling other duties at the temple”.

The case argues “that the monk was forced to perform paid labour far beyond his spiritual duties, and at times worked for more than two months straight”, says the Daily Telegraph.

Overwork is a major problem in Japan, and death by overwork is a recognised phenomenon that even has its own word - “karoshi”.

Last year, the Japanese government released a report that found 191 cases of “karoshi” in the 12 months leading up to March 2017, and that more than 7% of Japanese employees logged over 20 hours of overtime a week.

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