In my three years in Japan, I have witnessed a variety of public siestas, taken a few myself and played the role of pillow in more than desired. Some locations of these impromptu nap times are more appropriate than others. Here are the most frequent places I have witnessed Japanese people sleeping in public.
#1 Public Transportation
Even I am not immune to catching a few more winks during my morning commute. It’s like getting to push the snooze button one last time after you’ve already showered, breakfasted and left the house. That extra 15 minutes of public beauty sleep plus a very strong coffee can make the a.m. hours almost bearable.
Equally important morning trains naps are taken on the ride home after a long night out. Last train is usually around midnight- much too early call it quits in Tokyo. Luckily, first train is just a few hours later, around 4:30 a.m.
#2 English Class
When I was an English teacher, a fair few of my students slept through class. The most common reason: late-night studying, an excuse much more believable in Japan. After the normal school day and after school activities, many Japanese students also attend special cram schools that drill them in the information needed to pass high school/college entrance exams. Sometimes students attend cram school until 10pm, after which they finally return home, eat dinner, then start their homework.
#3 At Work
Consider this hypothetical situation: At a certain company, there are two employees who have the same job with the same amount of work to get done each day. One employee spends 10 hours at the office to accomplish this task, while the other gets everything done in 6 hours. Who is the better employee?
America’s answer: The one who finishes in 6 hours; he’s more efficient.
Japan’s answer: The one who finishes in 10 hours; his long hours show his dedication to the company.
Being at work is often viewed as more important that actually working. Hence, napping at the office as an acceptable pastime.
This is Mr. Hinata sleeping DURING OUR KIDS’ SPEECH CONTEST!! We spent months preparing for this thing!!
#4 At Restaurants
Restaurant sleeping is often synonymous with waiting-for-first-train sleeping. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. You’ve been dancing for 3 hours, drinking for 5, out on the town for 8 and awake for 21. 1 hour and 38 minutes until the Yamanote Line starts up again. If you can’t stay on your feet for another minute, you have a few options: cab (expensive), love hotel (more expensive), ramen shop (doable). Watching sunrise and trying to stay awake over a bowl of noodles is almost tradition in Roppongi, Shibuya and Shinjuku, Japan’s party districts.
# 5 In Completely Random Places
Sleepy in the park? Snooze on a bench for a bit. Has a tug-of-war tournament worn you out? Stretch out in a corner of the gymnasium. Suddenly hit by a wave of lethargy walking down the street? Pop a squat next to the nearest vending machine. Who needs a bed, futon, bedroom or privacy?
#6 In Bars
This is similar to the restaurant manifestation, but these people can’t even make it to an alternate location before passing out after a hard day of work followed by a night of hard drinking.
#7 Anywhere During a Typhoon
Typhoons can burst on the scene somewhat unexpectedly, washing away your usual routine with flood waters and high winds. This type of public slumber is a really communal experience. Being stranded creates a real sense of solidarity between strangers.
#8 On the street
One sunny morning I woke up and opened my window to let in the warm summer breeze, and this guy was just sleeping on the street outside my apartment building. True story, hence the photo.