Photo/IllutrationDentsu Inc. President Toshihiro Yamamoto apologizes in front of reporters after a hearing at the Tokyo Summary Court on Sept. 22. (Wataru Sekita)

The president of advertising giant Dentsu Inc. admitted in court on Sept. 22 that the company failed to prevent illegally long overtime hours that led to the suicide of a rookie employee.

In the first hearing at the Tokyo Summary Court, Toshihiro Yamamoto, 59, did not dispute the contents of the indictment against the Tokyo-based company.

“I apologize to the bereaved family members,” Yamamoto said. “We created problems for them by failing to fulfill our responsibility as a company.”

Dentsu is on trial on charges of violating the Labor Standards Law by having employees work illegally long overtime hours.

Prosecutors demanded a fine of 500,000 yen (about $4,470) against the company, saying, “It put priority on its profits and only implemented superficial measures.”

A ruling is expected on Oct. 6.

It is extremely rare in Japan for prosecutors to hold a large company criminally responsible over its overtime hours and question the head of the company in court.

Four Dentsu employees worked up to 19 hours above the upper limit of monthly overtime hours agreed upon between management and labor during the period from October to December 2015, according to the indictment.

Such a practice violates Article 36 of the Labor Standards Law, according to the indictment.

The four included Matsuri Takahashi, 24, who killed herself in December 2015 by jumping from her company dorm. The Mita Labor Standards Inspection Office recognized her suicide as “karoshi” (death from overwork).

“The idea that employees should not hesitate to work overtime until midnight or come in to work on their holidays spread widely (in Dentsu) based on a ‘client first’ mentality,” prosecutors said in their opening statement on Sept. 22.

They also pointed out: “(Dentsu) was admonished by labor standards inspection offices to rectify the situation. But it did not take fundamental measures, such as increasing the number of employees or reducing the workload.”

Moreover, they said the cases mentioned in the indictment were just the “tip of the iceberg.”

“Dentsu is a big company whose scale and business performance are the largest in the advertising industry,” they said. “So it has a huge social responsibility to make its working environment appropriate.”

Prosecutors submitted as evidence records of their investigations, including remarks made by Takahashi’s mother, Yukimi, 54, about the suicide.

Yamamoto implied that the corporate culture at Dentsu led to the illegal overtime hours.

“We had thought that spending much time at our jobs would lead to a higher quality of our services,” he said. “With all of our employees and executives banding together, we will thoroughly implement measures to prevent a recurrence.”

After the hearing, Yamamoto told reporters that the company recognizes the scale of its responsibility.

“The responsibility for robbing (Takahashi) of her precious life is really heavy,” he said.

Regarding how he intends to improve the working environment at Dentsu, he said: “It is not easy. But unless we accomplish it, our company will not be able to exist.”