Caught Napping – Sleeping On The Job In Japan
By Mark Guthrie
We have all been there. It’s the afternoon, that karaage bento you had for lunch weighs heavily on the belly, the office is like a sauna, and the gentle repetitious overhead thrumming of the fan mingles with the hushed murmuring of co-workers, luring you under. Your eyelids start to droop. A yawn slips out and consciousness slips away. Until…
What was that? Did you just fall asleep? You awake with a jolt as your chin hits your chest. A shake of the head, and a rub of the eyes. Come on, pull your socks up and get back to work, you tell yourself. Sleeping in the middle of the day? At work? Shame on you.
At only 7 hours and 43 minutes a day, Japan’s average sleep levels are the second lowest in the developed world
But if you live and work in Japan, this tiredness is to be expected. At only 7 hours and 43 minutes a day, Japan’s average sleep levels are the second lowest in the developed world, more than 30 minutes less than the inhabitants of the other OECD countries (only the South Koreans sleep less). However, when it comes to weekdays, this average drops significantly to a yawn inducing six hours and 22 minutes. It’s no surprise that everyone is so bloody knackered.
Japan’s working day is notoriously brutal. Mornings start early and evenings finish late. When employees leave, people call not “good bye” or “have a good evening”, but “otsukaresama deshita” (お疲れ様でした), which can be literally translated as ‘you must be tired’, the inference being that if you are leaving, you must have worked yourself into the ground, to exhaustion. However, woe betide the salaryman (サラリーマン) or office lady (OL) who leaves before the boss, for doing so is a tacit admission that you care nothing for your co-workers, that you are a slacker, and that, heaven forefend, you care more for your family than you do for the company.
With these chronically long days as standard, it is perhaps not surprising that people like to take a little bit of a snooze mid-day. In most western countries, regularly napping at work would see you facing disciplinary measures. Sleeping in the middle of the day? That’s for infants! However sleeping on the job in Japan, is pretty much par for the course. Whether it be on the subway, in cafes or local stores, having a kip is part of daily life. Some cafes offer a lunch and nap combo set where workers can stretch out on reclining chairs, others provide lounger rental at a cost of Y160 for a ten-minute snooze.
In some industries napping at work is considered not only acceptable but even desirable. Inemuri (居眠り) is the practice of ‘sleeping while present’ and has long been part of Japanese work culture, proof as it is that the sleeper spends so much time at the office that he or she is unable to sleep at home. However, traditionally this practice has been the preserve of only those at the very top or at the very bottom of the office hierarchy, and those indulging are expected to remain upright at their desks, as to appear socially active, despite being anything but.
This is starting to change though. Following research that shows mistakes are often made by tired, sleepy workers, particularly in the afternoons, the Japanese government have recently released guidelines on the importance of workers’ sleep, particularly that of working mothers who also shoulder household responsibilities, and have recommended that everyone take a 30 minute nap in the afternoon. Employees who do so are said to work more happily, readily and, most importantly, more productively with less mistakes.
So, many companies have begun to allow staff to slump in their seats. Others have installed comfy sofas and small nap rooms in their offices, seeing this as a cost effective way (i.e. other than the outlay on a few pillows, free) of increasing productivity and creating a happier, less grouchy working atmosphere.
So, what are you waiting for? Don’t stifle that yawn. As long as you can be the epitome of productiveness later on, embrace that sleepiness, get your head down for a bit of shut eye. But please, keep the snoring to a minimum volume. Some of us are trying to get some kip, you know. Sweet dreams!