Friday, December 16, 2016

Why there are so many sleepers on Japanese trains

In most countries, sleeping on the job isn’t just frowned upon, it may get you fired.

But in Japan, napping in the office is common and culturally accepted. And in fact, it is often seen as a subtle sign of diligence: You must be working yourself to exhaustion.

The word for it is “inemuri.” It is often translated as “sleeping on duty,” but Dr. Brigitte Steger, a senior lecturer in Japanese studies at Downing College, Cambridge, who has written a book on the topic, says it would be more accurate to render it as “sleeping while present.” ...

Inemuri has been practiced in Japan for at least 1,000 years, and it is not restricted to the workplace. People may nap in department stores, cafes, restaurants or even a snug spot on a busy city sidewalk.

Sleeping in public is especially prevalent on commuter trains, no matter how crowded; they often turn into de facto bedrooms. It helps that Japan has a very low crime rate. ...

Sleeping in social situations can even enhance your reputation. Dr. Steger recalled a group dinner at a restaurant where the male guest of a female colleague fell asleep at the table. The other guests complimented his “gentlemanly behavior” — that he chose to stay present and sleep, rather than excuse himself.

One reason public sleeping may be so common in Japan is because people get so little sleep at home. A 2015 government study found that 39.5 percent of Japanese adults slept less than six hours a night. ...

Dr. Steger pointed out that closed eyes may not always equal shut-eye: A person may close them just to build a sphere of privacy in a society with little of it.