lifestyle

Snoozing here, there and everywhere

41 Comments
By Rona Moon

On the train to and from work, sitting down, standing up, at work, at school… in public places, people in Japan (including politicians) are nodding off whenever they can. It’s part of the scenery day and night in Tokyo, a “city that never sleeps”. At least, not for a full eight hours. Naps don’t count.

The Japanese word for nap ("inemuri") comes from the combination of two words, "iru" (basically, being in a place or being present) and "nemuri" (sleep), and is often translated as “sleeping while present”. Of course, there are other words for nap such as "utatane" and "hirune," with slightly different connotations, but "inemuri" seems to imply that you are sitting up, on the job, present and accounted for, but just happen to have passed out from sheer exhaustion.

The Japanese propensity for napping anywhere has been noted with some surprise by other nationalities, judging by the Wikipedia entries for "inemuri" in English, German, Polish, Russian and Greek. Well-accustomed to getting some shuteye when the opportunity presents itself, some Japanese encounter difficulties when travelling overseas. One blogger commented that she tried it on a tram in Geneva, lulled by the seductive vibrations, but was stared at and warned to look after her belongings.

This could be why you can close your eyes and let yourself drift off in a Japanese train — the chances are good that when you awake, your wallet, cell phone and all items of clothing will still be there.

This national habit has been the subject of discussion in China, including a thread on the vulnerability of Japanese people sleeping on the subway. Some netizens asserted that it was the fast-paced lifestyle and the way workers gave their all that was the cause. Others doubted whether people were really that tired, or questioned the value of such a lifestyle. A few compared the subway systems of the two countries, and noted that the Japanese subway may offer a less crowded and more peaceful space to catch some Z’s. Less crowded? I find that hard to swallow. Less elbows, maybe.

"Inemuri" starts at a young age. In a study carried out by the Japan Youth Research Institute, the percentage of Japan’s high school students who nap during class is 45%, higher than the U.S., China and South Korea. Is this a product of a notoriously rigorous school system, or an accepted cultural norm?

According to Brigitte Steger’s research on the subject, in a Japanese company only those high up or low down can engage in the practice, leaving middle managers out in the cold and not allowed to nap (as cited by this BBC article on "inemuri") — which Japanese writer oneDog describes as an amusing misconception.

The Japanese work ethic is legendary. Are employees caught napping because they’re cutting into their essential hours of rest thanks to over-the-top workplace demands? As one common theory goes, since the essence of gainful employment in Japan is simply being seated at your desk in the office before and after your boss leaves (rather than being productive), it doesn’t matter whether you’re sleeping or awake.

As an additional bonus, the act of napping could avoid many an awkward situation as the napper is “unable” to see or hear—which may be faked at will. Fake sleeping is known in Japan as “raccoon dog sleep” ("tanuki neiri"), a similar expression to “playing possum” in English. It’s said that the firing of a hunter’s gun may cause raccoon dogs to faint and fall out of the trees. Then when the hunter incautiously approaches, the animal suddenly leaps to its feet with rage in classic horror movie style, and makes its escape.

After I began work at a Japanese company, what with the long hours, the high stress and the pressure to be like everyone else, I soon found myself embracing the habit of "inemuri." Especially on trains, my eyes would start to close and I’d find myself drooling on a stranger’s shoulder without the slightest remorse. I mean, everyone was doing it. Why swim against the tide? Whereas if I found myself in say, New York or London, I wouldn’t want to drop my guard even for a moment. I’d have my eyes extra wide open for the first sign of trouble and I’d be clutching my purse in a death grip.

Source: Matome Naver

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41 Comments
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Japanese people never miss an opportunity to underscore just how hard working they are and how little chance for sleep they get. However, probably the biggest reason they're so tired all the time is because they don't go to bed at a decent time, instead staying up till 2am to watch some awful TV show. When I tell people that I go to bed about 10pm-11pm, they seem genuinely shocked, as if such a thing were incomprehensible to them. I really have very little time for all this "being-tired-shows-how-hard-I-work" nonsense.

22 ( +23 / -3 )

The work ethic here may be legendary because the Japanese are great at broadcasting only their good side to the world. Productivity rates are fairly low, though. As for napping, it seems to be more of a cultural thing. People do it while standing up and even at eight in the morning on a Monday, half the people on the train are trying to sleep on your shoulder. It's pretty annoying . Most people seem to be devoid of any real energy. Too much stress and putting your job before everything is a main cause.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

I'm a Brit but with Japanese parents. Perhaps it's in the genes to nap on trains because I certainly do every evening on the train home from work (and I don't get strange looks - this is London)!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I found the working culture quite inefficient. Instead of working solidly for eight hours with a lunch break in between, most of my colleagues work for 12-14 hours, with ample doses of inemuri, manga, AKB48 youtube videos in between, while doing the same (or often less) amount of actual work! I had to adjust to this norm, otherwise people thought I was not sincere enough!!

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I think the reasons for not sleeping in public places like trains in other countries is much less about having something nicked (as this writer likes to claim) and a lot more to do with embarrassment. The writer makes it sound like people overseas are all thieves waiting for their opportunity to steal.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

It is said that Japanese people seem to snooze everywhere and maybe in the trains and buses, but I don't think so. I sometimes notice that most of people are not sleeping there. They are reading e-mails,,,,books, watching outside and doing something. Some really tired people in almost empy train cars snooze after work.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

I used to lecture everyone on Japanese peoples almost surreal ability to fall asleep anywhere and everywhere. But I was recently corrected in that it's because of the draconian work schedule imposed onto Japanese employees. It's not the long work schedule, its just that when people finish their office job at 10PM or 11PM they still try to do stuff that resembles a real life instead of something out of the novel 1984. The problem is that it cuts into their sleep time leaving everyone in a constant state of sleeplessness. Kind of sucks..

6 ( +8 / -2 )

We have long meetings and many different people will nod off into lala land during it. I have been here so long, I asked friends back home and was laughed at, no, you don't sleep during meetings. Surprised that was not mentioned in the article.

But yeah, like Bhateswar said, you have to adjust to the perception and spend more unproductive time at work to show you are a part of the tribe. Sleeping helps.

Sleeping on a train, that I understand though. I have done it on occasion. You are lulled by the rhythm, or your train ride is just so long, you take a break.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I like how they're completely knocked out in the train, only to spring back up to life as soon as it's their stop. I sometimes think they're faking it, just so they don't have to offer their seat to anyone. In any case, I think it's pretty funny.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

the percentage of Japan's high school students who nap during class is 45%, higher than the U.S., China and South Korea. Is this a product of a notoriously rigorous school system, or an accepted cultural norm?

this is what happens when there is no punishment for sleeping (or any misbehaving) students. they can sleep all day and will still matriculate.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I like how they're completely knocked out in the train, only to spring back up to life as soon as it's their stop. I sometimes think they're faking it, just so they don't have to offer their seat to anyone. In any case, I think it's pretty funny.

Yeah - they are mostly faking it, but I think it's because of their discomfort at being in close proximity to many people they don't know for a fairly long period of time. I've found that, on the trains, if you continuously stare at someone who is not 'asleep', within only 15 or 20 seconds, they will fall 'asleep' out of the awkwardness of the situation.

On the other hand, many of them are chronically sleep-deprived, which does make them more docile and easy to control.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

hammereddownnailAug. 26, 2013 - 12:30PM JST

Yeah - they are mostly faking it, but I think it's because of their discomfort at being in close proximity to many people they don't know for a fairly long period of time

More than that, I think they are cognitively lazy. If a person or situation is not forcing most of them to burn up some of their brain cells, they just go into shut-down mode.

I've noticed that since the introduction of i-phones and i-pads, a lot less people sleep on trains.

This equation of Japanese long working hours and Japanese sleeping on trains is and has always been BS. Even after a week's holiday, they'd still be crashed out all over the seat on the first Monday morning back to work.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

Bringing Japanese spouses abroad to meet your relatives can be embarrassing. They're always nodding off through lively family dinners, and passing out in cars during scenic rides. It's like they're 87 years old instead of in their late 20s. I would never have thought it necessary to tell someone that "it's polite to stay awake during social events or even when in a long car ride with other people." I guess that's how different social etiquette can be between cultures.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

They're always nodding off through lively family dinners

As I wrote, "Yeah - they are mostly faking it, but I think it's because of their discomfort at being in close proximity to many people they don't know for a fairly long period of time."

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

guys this is a little over the top complaining no?

When I came here 20 yrs ago, Japan was touted as the most reading-est nation on Earth, and with a VERy hi literacy rate to boot, an accomplishment for any country, but for this one with a complex writing system really something to be proud of.

Before the iphone and ipad, they were all reading books on the train. "They" don't just go into shut-down mode when "they" don't have to burn brain cells! Sure they are stressed out and/or have a long ride and sleep too, perhaps more so or in different situations than is unacceptable in our home countries, but "they" also do other stuff to occupy their brains, take up the time, like me or you.

and while avoiding contact w/ others is certainly something a lazy person does, but they way social rules and manners work here, they have a big pressure on them not to impose on others. So half the avoiding eye contact etc, is to not bother others, yo!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I hear what you're saying Lowly, and I also don't agree with the "cognitively lazy" comment above, but there is a limit to how far the "they are just being polite" explanation can be stretched.

"They" (or would you rather "we" used a term like "The esteemed and unique Japanese people, descendants of Amaterasu"?) crossed the road to avoid the foreigner because they didn't want to impose. "They" abandoned their place in the queue at the shop when a foreigner stood behind them because they didn't want to impose. "They" avoided sitting next to the foreigner on the train because they didn't want to impose. "They" pretended to sleep on the train because they didn't want to impose.

Sometimes, you should just call "social dysfunction", "agoraphobia", "xenophobia" etc. for what they really are. Products of an education system designed to maximize obedience and effort, which can only be achieved at the cost of initiative, assertiveness, and self-confidence.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Noisy neighbors or neighborhoods are one thing contributing to insufficient sleep for some people, and by that I mean me. The place I'm living in now is about 25 meters from a freight train line, which loves to pass at 12am, 3am, many times from 5am onwards, and all kinds of times in between. It sounds like it's gonna smash into my apartment, I hope it doesn't. Place before I lived in my neighbour came home from his night job at 2 or 3am and proceeded to sing in the shower, play video games etc etc. The problem was the wall between us couldn't have been much more than 1cm. Another place before that there was a guy who went to work at 4am on a very noisy scooter/noise polluter. At any rate what I'm saying is that it can be hard to get quality sleep if there's noise in close quarters. End rant.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The Japanese word for nap (“inemuri”) comes from the combination of two words, “iru” (basically, being in a place or being present) and “nemuri” (sleep), and is often translated as “sleeping while present”.

Actually, inemuri means to doze off. The whole article refers to dozing off, not napping. They are entirely different activities (or non-activities).

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

guys this is a little over the top complaining no?

You really have been here some time, then.

As someone stated before, the Japanese love to portray themselves as incredibly hard workers - that's why they sleep everywhere. Well guess what, Japanese are not working particularly hard. Or efficient. Sure, they lull around a lot: smoking breaks "air keyboarding" in front o the computer, creating some Excel sheets for dog knows what reason, but efficiency is not what this country is about.

I think the sleeping on the train routine is mostly about social uneasiness, unsure on how to react with strangers. They have their manual on how to interact in many situations: customers, clients, friends, in-laws, but complete strangers (especially the weirdos) on trainsh tey don't know what to do with. So they hide in their little cocoon, semi-concious or fakingly sleeping, all to avoid that horrible experience of having to interact.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Well guess what, Japanese are not working particularly hard. Or efficient. Sure, they lull around a lot: smoking breaks "air keyboarding" in front o the computer, creating some Excel sheets for dog knows what reason, but efficiency is not what this country is about.

Working hard and working efficiently are not the same thing. It is possible to be hard-working and still not work efficiently.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I'm convinced the majority aren't faking it. I don't think young, image-conscious women in particular want to be seen sitting with their legs apart slobbering from an open mouth or falling asleep on the shoulder of a salaryman.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

zzzzzzzzzz

3 ( +4 / -1 )

When in Rome...

Even before moving to Japan I was already napping on the bus or train but doing so with one eye open. Here in Japan I can just enjoy it that much more. You seem to get everywhere faster when you catch a few winks and feel slightly a little more wide eyed and bushy tailed on arrival. Just one of the many reasons I love Japan. Having some hotness fall asleep on your shoulder is just icing on the cake.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

You seem to get everywhere faster when you catch a few winks and feel slightly a little more wide eyed and bushy tailed on arrival.

exactly! there's mountains of research on how a short power nap can improve cognitive function.

even in a normal 8 hour day of work, taking some time to sleep is going to increase your efficiency afterwards.

isn't it great to live in a society and work at a company where people feel comfortable enough to be able to sleep virtually anywhere? here, there's enough trust given to the individual whereby they are believed to be capable of managing their own time and energy without an authority figure looking over their shoulder harping on them to be working. granted, some people take advantage of this trust but why should we let one bad apple spoil the bunch?

'inemuri' is just another one of the quaint idiosyncrasies that makes Japan the place it is. if you can't learn to laugh at these types of absurdities you'll never survive in Japan.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

This is why many undercover mass transit cops appear to be sleeping: To catch those who would prey on real sleeping people. A TV news magazine show had an episode about one such in a NYC subway, showing undercover cops on the train and platform, and it was amazing to see the criminals in action (assuming it wasn't staged, of course), some of whom looked like decent businessmen. Even more amazing were the few people who tried to help apparent drunks by getting or calling the police (when summoned, the police - - all of whom were in on the sting - - had to pretend to help the "sleeper"). It would have been more interesting to surreptitiously view real drunks/sleepers to see what might have happened.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It is easy for me to nod off on an afternoon train home after classes and I enjoy it. When I was younger and worked more, I sometimes slept beyond my destination swearing under my breath as I made the trek out of the train, down the stairs and up to the other side. But I could not fall asleep while visiting China as cell phones would be constantly ringing or someone would be placing a call ... I think whispering is not in their vocabulary.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

hammered,

look, man, I can't deny what you wrote, and your handle name, you must have had whatever experiences you had. in fact what you wrote is exactly what I might say to a, say, middle aged j guy who is trying to lecture me on j manners, or the wonderousness of j politeness. but if I had to stand back and try and give a balanced view of everything I've seen, and all the ppl I know, that would be just one small part of how I would summarize things here. a part that is too often ignored and needs to be looked at but one small part nonetheless. but if you give in to that stuff, and make it everything, you could end up just defeating your self, which would be a shame.

knox-

ya, what you said too, that's a part of it but not all. it's not only just pretending to work, it is also sacrificing yourself for the group. a lot of ppl put that down, but it has its worthy sides too.

sleeping to hide from ppl, after being here so long, i know that and do it once in awhile, i know all the anti-social hiding tricks. but that is not all it is. It is also to not impose on ppl. it is both. at some point you gotta accept that stuff.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

This is like a Japanese shortened version of a siesta. They might just be embracing their inner " Latino" ...only without the passion..lol.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

"They have their manual on how to interact in many situations: customers, clients, friends, in-laws, but complete strangers (especially the weirdos) on trainsh tey don't know what to do with. So they hide in their little cocoon, semi-concious or fakingly sleeping, all to avoid that horrible experience of having to interact."

I have to say, this is quite true...

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

People living in Tokyo will understand. You just cannot get a good night's sleep here most of the time lol

Work hard play hard!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The hell with it! Next time I have to attend one of the many pointless meetings they insist on having, I'll see if I can doze off a bit. Let the chips fall where they may...

On the subject of sleeping: nothing beats a good Andalusian siesta. Every damn place closes down, you have no choice but to take it easy. That beats the neck-break-quasi-sleep on Tokyo trains any day of the week.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Article should have read "especially politicians".

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

If you need to sleep on the train, go ahead. I do it myself. But don't try to use me for a pillow. I can't "gammanste" like the Japanese do.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Not bashing my fellow foreigners but why do some of them have such a problem with people sleeping? I try to sleep on the train when commuting (4 plus hours at the moment). Even if I can't sleep, I'll close my eyes and try to rest. Should I not do this? Am I somehow offending you? If so, you might be shocked to learn that I don't care. Why do you care? Why are you staring at other passengers who are minding their own business?

I though it was funny when I slept on the bus back home. At first, people seemed shocked. Gradually everybody started to do the same thing though.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Mr. Kobayashi

bildenburg, 10pm? Are you 70 years old? I go to bed at 11:30 and wake up at 5:30 every morning. A solid 6 hours is enough.

Actually, the older you get, the less sleep you need. Therefore, if you only need six hours, perhaps it's you who are 70?

I used to fall asleep on the train, if I had to spend upwards of 30-45 minutes on there. I get motion sickness fairly easily, so using my phone the whole time, or reading a book etc. are out of the question. Often I would just admire the scenery (outside the window of course :P), and sometimes listen to music, which would cause me to nod off.

In NZ, I never saw anyone asleep in a public place/on public transportation, though I never saw people standing on the bus either - except for the free shuttle bus around town.

I doubt that most naps are intentional. People doze off; that's it. It's just lucky that, in Japan, you can do that and wake up with everything intact!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

10pm? Are you 70 years old?

Everybody has different sleep requirements. Some work/exercise more than others, etc, blah, blah.

Calling somebody names because they sleep more than you is ridiculous. I'm lucky to get to sleep before 12 and get up at 5. Like I said above, a 4 hour pus commute and working in a factory until recently because we were short staffed.

Yeah, I'm just a little tired.

I go to bed at 11:30 and wake up at 5:30 every morning. A solid 6 hours is enough.

What a hero.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Stay on topic please.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's quite a sight when the whole row of people on a train are dozing off and resting their heads on each other's shoulders....

I could never quite understand whether it was lack of sleep or boredom when I lived there..especially when students were sleeping in class which would be unheard of here.

Having said that you could quite safely nod off a bit here on public transport (not just in Japan) although it's pretty uncommon.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well, well, well! As a foreigner or an expat, I came to Japan for work, the first thing I learned in Japan is to doze off in a train....... it is actually quite fun!

In order to be able to do this act is you must get a seat at all cost...... then you can doze off easily and happily, coz nobody cares!

WELCOME TO JAPAN!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Enjoy the sound of silence!

A colleague of mine told me her home was quite a distance away from work and it took around 1.5hrs to reach. Once she worked pretty late hour and boarded a last train home but overslept until the train reached the last destination, instead of paying just Yen600 for the train, she had to spent Yen3,000 for another taxi to turn back to her home.

I told her luckily she managed to still catch a taxi in the wee hours otherwise her family will be worried!

This story is Made in Japan!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A 24 min nap on the train does wonders and can refresh you. I actually think it is the quality of the train lines and rhythmical 1/f movements that help you relax. The seats in many countries are made of steel and uncomfortable (you would slip off them if you leaned back too hard). Waking up 30sec before you stop is not much of an art, but just keeping part of your brain active.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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