A new law capping overtime has come into effect in Japan in an attempt to tackle the nation's culture of long working hours.

The law limits extra work to 45 hours a month and 360 hours a year, with potential fines of 300,000 yen ($3,975) for companies that violate the new rules.

The labour reform law, which initially targets only major companies, permits an extension of up to 100 hours a month and 720 hours a year in busy periods for a maximum of six months a year.

It will reportedly be expanded to include legal overtime caps for small and medium businesses in Japan from April next year.


Critics remain sceptical as to whether the new legal cap will succeed in transforming the deeply rooted culture of overworking in Japanese companies.

The pressures of corporate life are well documented, with many companies governed by hierarchical structures, strict protocol and widespread pressure for staff to work longer hours than their superiors.

Japan's long hours have increasingly come into the spotlight because of a growing number of deaths from overworking, known as karoshi.

As many as 190 people reportedly died from overworking, including suicide caused by work pressures, during the 2017 financial year, according to government statistics.

Around 90 per cent of deaths from overwork involved victims who had worked at least 80 hours of overtime during the previous month, with as many as half clocking up 100-plus hours.

One example of a particularly high profile case was 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi who suffered a mental breakdown and committed suicide due to overworking at Dentsu, a major advertising firm.

Takahashi reportedly worked more than 105 extra hours in a single month.

Government figures show that deaths from overwork occur most frequently in the transportation and postal sectors, followed by wholesale, retail and manufacturing, with most victims reportedly in their 40s.


The new overtime cap is one of three key pillars of labour reform masterminded by Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, who is grappling with a rapidly ageing, shrinking workforce in addition to a culture of overworking.

The introduction of the new labour law coincides with a major shift in Japan's immigration policy, with a new visa system also launched on Monday opening the doors to more foreign workers.