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Public transport tactics: How to deal with shoulder sleepers


Anyone who’s taken public transportation has had a run-in with shoulder sleepers, the people who sit next to you on the train, bus, plane and decide your shoulder is their next stop to dreamland.

Some people deal with this threat by taking up the neighboring seat with their bags. However justified that tactic might be, you’re left looking selfish to the rest of the passengers.

So you leave the seat open. And like clockwork some dude with pit stains plunks down next you, eyelids half-raised and wobbling like a drunk during an earthquake.

Japan, having one of the most used public transportation systems in the world, knows a thing or two about people sleeping on your shoulder. The following is a collection of strategies posted online by Japanese commuters for shrugging off shoulder sleepers.


Movers are defensive by nature and are willing to sacrifice their own seat space to dump that load on their shoulders. The basic movers simply shift their arms ever so slightly by wiggling and shuffling out from under the other person. The idea is to keep the other person asleep and free of embarrassment thereby maintaining tranquility on the vehicle.

More advanced movers create an entire alibi in case the person should wake up. For example, one mover writes, “I pretend I’m looking for something in my bag which moves my arm away.”


Pushers take a more aggressive stance, which helps them maintain their own seat space but requires them to get closer to the other person than they might like. Pushers all seem to have a universally shared technique which begins by pushing out with the stolen shoulder. If that move is unsuccessful, or if the sleeper comes back for more, the pusher will then start working the midsection with their elbow. Whether they intend to push away, harm, or waken the sleeper purely depends on their mood.


Pullers are very similar to movers except in one key aspect: pullers intend to wake the sleeper. Rather than gingerly pulling their shoulder aside, a puller will jerk themselves in the opposite direction causing the sleeper to tip over and (hopefully) wake up.

The intensity with which the pullers pull, is strictly up to individual. Some softly pull away so as to awaken the sleeper but not make them crap their pants. Others, however, go for the full on pant-pooping effect. One expert puller shares their tactic; “I figure out the timing of their wobbling. When they teeter toward me I lean the same way. Then they wake up and notice what they were doing.”


Some choose a more vocal approach to dealing with sleepers. Often times, the “speaking” is simply a cough loud enough to jar someone from their slumber. Otherwise a simple “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” is enough to do the job.

One speaker has perhaps the best idea of all. According to this person: “When the sleeper is just about to hit shoulder, I just whisper ‘do you feel tired’ and they jerk right awake.”

I bet they do; imagine some stranger whispering into your ear just before you drift off.


Runners adhere to the axiom, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. “If they don’t budge, then I move to another seat” states one runner. Runners are not the least bit concerned with the principle of standing – sitting – your ground. Rather they opt for the instant results of getting out of there.

“I don’t care who it is, I’ll move to another seat” claimed another runner. This brings us to the final dilemma: What if the sleeper is hot?

Guys would pretty much agree that if the sleeper is good looking, then no harm no foul. One guy echoed the thoughts of many when he said, “If it’s a beautiful woman, then I think ‘alright, come on’ lol.” Some ladies, too, felt “If it’s a hot guy, then no problem.”

Source: Naver (Japanese)

© RocketNews24

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Get a tissue out and tear a little strip and roll it between your fingers until it holds it shape. Then just very, very lightly run it around the nostril area and top lip. You can also try this one at home if you wake up before your spouse. The results crack me up every time.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I hold a ball point pen near the place they keep bashing into, and let them loll onto it. Wakes them up fast.

-12 ( +0 / -12 )

Not me. Never has happened to myself. Never.

In fact, that "half space" between myself and another has, itself, never been occupied--okay, so I've not traveled rush hour, and am also none too, doesn't anyone want a shoulder to sleep on?

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Good looking or not, I don't want a stranger's head on my shoulder. Especially if it wreaks of hair tonic! I don't ride the train often enough to experience the shoulder thing. I did, however, experience a dude leaning on me last week while we were standing cuz he was falling asleep. That was annoying! I kept pushing him away cuz I was getting tired of holding his weight and he had the nerve to give me stink-eye!

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Hot girl: Sweet dreams. Others: Swift upward jolt of the shoulder. Repeated if necessary.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Why is this even an issue? If you don't like it, jerk your shoulder upwards and they shift. Problem solved.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Elbow the arm where it hurts them, then exclaim loudly that you are not a pillow!

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Very much a puller. Following a little shock, the look of bemused embarrassment on the sleepers face is quite satisfying.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Almost never sit down, not an issue for me but I have seen it a lot in 10+ yrs of commuting in Tokyo. Pretty funny sometimes.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Once while I was on the back bench on a public bus, a young and very attractive female not only fell asleep, but practically curled up in my lap. I, um, didn't have the heart to arouse her, but when she finally awakened and looked at the evil grin I must have been wearing, she was almost distraught. Alas our paths never crossed again.

1 ( +3 / -3 )

I, um, didn't have the heart to arouse her,

Freudian slip?

1 ( +2 / -2 )

Hot girl: Sweet dreams. Others: Swift upward jolt of the shoulder. Repeated if necessary.

I totally agree and for good measure an extra elbow, shoulder jolt to the rib cage for those obnoxious salarymen that breath smell like booze and vomit on a Friday, Saturday night coming home from the office or soap land.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Spiked shoulderpads?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Elbow the arm where it hurts them, then exclaim loudly that you are not a pillow!

Glad to see I'm not the only one who does this. Add in a dirty look and a snide comment about obviously needing more sleep and you've got me pegged. It's rude and disgusting. I don't know you, I don't want to, keep your bad breath and hair products to yourself!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Just say 'Makura ja nai yo-' followed by a elbow in the chops. Works.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

buy a liner ticket

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Being big and burly has it's advantages, I guess. Seen it happen a lot, but it never does to me.

But, I'm gonna start carrying a sharpie... just in case.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

some crouch forward and clockwork they awake and walk out at their stop -

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Spiked shoulder pads would solve the problem quickly. If the "Mad Max" look isn't your style, some thumbtacks poked through the jacket from the inside would be unobstrusive, but just as effective. BWAHAHAhaha!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I'm not really keen on having strangers falling asleep on me, if it was an attractive woman I'd probably be kinder unless she reeks of booze, or something that causes my eyes to burn and my nose to run.

@Virtuoso, in that kind of situation it would have been hard for me to not let my mischievious side get the better of me and ask, "did you have a pleasant nap madam? Surely you were tucked in comfortably upon my lap".

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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