Photo/IllutrationHisae Sato, the mother of the man in the photo, who committed suicide, speaks at a news conference at the labor ministry in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district on April 3. (Yuko Matsuura)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A young contractor working on a satellite project for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) committed suicide in 2016 as a result of pressure at work, authorities concluded.

A lawyer representing the man's surviving family confirmed the recognition as "karoshi" (death from overwork) on April 3.

Yukinobu Sato, 31, was found dead by suicide at his home in October 2016.

A workers' compensation claim over the death filed by members of his family in June 2017 was approved April 2 by the Ibaraki Labor Bureau’s Tsuchiura Labor Standards Inspection Office.

Sato was involved in the controlling operation of the Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite Ibuki (GOSAT) at JAXA’s Tsukuba Space Center in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Sato joined Software Consultant Corp. (SCC), a software development company based in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward, in April 2010. From 2015, he was dispatched to its group company, Space Engineering Development Co., to work on the control operation of Ibuki, a task that the JAXA contracted with SCC to conduct.

According to his family's lawyer, Hiroshi Kawahito, who held a news conference at the labor ministry in Tokyo on April 3, the labor authorities recognized that the young man was assigned “an unachievable quota” at work.

In addition to handling the satellite control operation, Sato was asked to develop software for a system that manages the satellite’s schedule.

Sato also had difficulties with his boss, and his workload was increased just before his death.

As grounds for its conclusion that the death was work-related, labor authorities in Tsuchiura cited the heavy physical and psychological stress Sato was put under, which led to an adjustment disorder, ultimately causing him to end his life.

Kawahito pointed out that Sato worked a highly demanding shift for the control operation, requiring intense concentration. He worked 16-hour overnight shifts seven times a month.

After he started to take on heavier responsibilities at work in September 2016, his overtime hours reached 70 or more per month.

When Sato tried to claim the overtime, his boss gave him a warning, forcing him to work the extra hours without pay.

The boss repeatedly ordered Sato to redo his work without giving concrete explanations.

On the day Sato died, he was reprimanded by the boss for about 30 minutes.

Kawahito urged JAXA and the Environment Ministry, which led the project that Sato worked on, to immediately take steps to improve the workplace environment.

A representative of Software Consultant said, “We sincerely accept the recognition of this work-related death and will do our utmost to take preventive measures.”

JAXA said in a statement, "As a contractee of the project, we'll make efforts to assess the situation to see if there is area for improvement.”