Death from overwork, male virgins and childless marriage



Aichi, Japan: Marriage can provide useful and interesting insights in behavioral economics, much more so when you try to mix it with a combination of social and market factors that can make you cry because of gloomy stories. One sad example is Filipino Joey Tocnang, the first documented case of “karoshi,” or death from overwork of foreign workers in the land of the rising sun, where hard work is considered a virtue.

The case of the 27-year old Tocnang was recognized by the Japanese government as karoshi, which entitles his family to payment for damages. According to a report by Justin McCurry in The Guardian, Tocnang was reportedly “forced” to work overtime between 78.5 hours and 122.5 hours a month, citing a report of the Gifu labor standards inspection office.

Like other overseas Filipino workers in Japan, Tocnang worked under a “trainee” system, which has long been criticized for exploiting foreign workers, including other nationals from China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia and Nepal.

Three months before he was due to be reunited with his wife and daughter in the Philippines, Tocnang’s punishing work schedule finally took its toll in April 2014, when he died of a heart failure at his factory’s dormitory.

Then you wonder. In the Philippines, working an average of 12 hours a day for security guards is a widespread industry practice and yet there has been no reported case here of bangungot (roughly translated as nightmare) related to overwork similar to what happened to Tocnang.

And so what makes it different in the case of Tocnang? The simple answer is that in this country, there is no similar government monitoring system that allows you to understand what’s happening to our overworked and underprivileged workers toiling under slave-like working conditions.

Even in highly-sophisticated Japan, the labor ministry started only documenting karoshi cases of foreign workers in recent years, resulting in the publication of a white paper in October 2016 in which the government admitted that “one in five workers was at risk of death from overwork.”

A different case is that of Melissa (not her real name), who is in her late 20s, a college graduate of a university in her home province of Nueva Ecija. Melissa was my seatmate in a flight to Nagoya, where she has been working as a factory worker for close to 10 years now. She’s married to a 36-year old Japanese national who was introduced to her by a common friend.

To her advantage, Melissa is no longer bound by the controversial “trainee” system that requires people to work more than eight hours a day as a matter of daily routine for everyone. As soon as she clocks out at around 5:30 p.m., she starts doing her usual round of window-shopping, if not actually buying the basic commodities for the house as she waits for her husband to come home.

I sensed trouble when we spoke after I saw her playing with the two-year old daughter of another Filipina who was seated near the egg-shaped window of the plane. I asked her: “How many kids do you have?”

My doubt was confirmed when Melissa replied with a tinge of sorrow in her eyes: “We don’t have any plans. My husband thinks raising children is simply too much of a responsibility for our marriage.”

Now, I know. Some Japanese have discovered the answer to the growing issue of male virginity. If you haven’t read my article last time on “Why Japan Has the Most Number of Virgins,” then you’ve lost a ton. Take this, just the same:

“According to a report by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, around 42 percent of men and 44.2 percent of women admitted they were virgins. The survey covered people between the ages of 18 and 34, representing 70 percent of men and 60 percent of women.”

Among other outlets, aside from nude painting, anime, manga, and “no-pan kissa,” it appears that some Japanese male virgins have found childless marriage as one option to satisfy their natural cravings. And it could be more economical in the long term as well. Or is it? I can’t help but to ask another question the moment she started conveniently calling me as kuya (elder brother):

“What’s the purpose of marriage?” Melissa has no reply.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts.


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