22 June, 2017

Sleep deprived nation

Japan is a sleep deprived nation. If you live here and travel around on trains, there's no need to look at a study to know that. Morning or night, people fall asleep in all sorts of public places. I don't normally like to take photos of people sleeping in public, but in the last week I've had two opportunities to do so without embarrassing anyone.

People often stop their cars or trucks (especially work vehicles) and sleep in them, often with the engines running. This gentleman was in a work vehicle, stopped next to a local park with a cloth over his face. The time was 6pm.

This lady, I presume, was having a cat-nap. It was at a local food court at 10.30 on Monday morning.

Many people, especially men, come home very late from work (8 is early). School children also often are doing cram classes or sports training late into the evening. It isn't unusual to see kids on the trains after 9pm. Indeed it seems that many pre-school kids are kept up late too. Having a 7/7.30 bedtime for our young boys seemed extraordinarily early to my Japanese friends. So exhaustion seems pervasive in the whole lifestyle here. It's no surprise people are sleeping any time they get the chance.

Napping in public is actually a sign of diligence in Japan, this article says. Indeed it seems to be quite the acceptable thing, as long as you don't sprawl. It's not uncommon to see people asleep on the train falling to one side or other. That isn't so acceptable.

But apparently lost sleep is costing Japanese economy billions. I'm not sure how they figured this out. But this article says:
[the researchers] tapped into government and large company data sets on sleep duration to estimate defined costs. It also predicted the future economic effects if the trend continued. Absenteeism (people not showing up for work), employees not working (people taking breaks), and presenteeism (people being present but working at a sub-optimal level) were the reasons traced for the unproductivity.
It is a significant problem, obviously, and not just for economic reasons. This Japan Times article gives an example of someone who ended up with clinical depression due to overwork. Death by overwork is recognised by society and if it can be proven then employer is in trouble.

But why is this such an ingrained part of the culture, you may ask? Well, people have written whole books on this, so this little blog post is barely going to touch the surface. 

One theory is that the culture has been formed by the rice-growing past. Growing rice is not only requires constant attention, but it also requires collective work, hence we've got a hard-working culture where it's hard to change individual habits. It is frowned upon to leave many workplaces exactly when your shift is over, in fact, leaving before the boss is a no-no in an office environment. I've never worked in a Japanese office, but this is what I've heard and read. (One article about the "rice theory": rice paddies and culture).

In any case. It's difficult to change culture, and that seems especially the case in Japan. So, though the government is trying to make changes, I'm not sure that we'll be seeing less public sleeping any time soon.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I'd love to visit Japan one day, but I would struggle in that culture.