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‘Sleep At Work’ Is A Socially Acceptable Norm In Japanese Culture- Here’s All About It!

Sleep at work is what the Japanese culture promotes largely. Read ahead!

In most countries sleeping at work might cost one’s job and it is embarrassing too. But in Japan, sleeping in the office space is common and is a socially accepted fact. In fact, it is often seen as an epitome of diligence, as in—”the person is so dedicated to their job that they worked themselves to exhaustion.”

Japanese art of sleeping at work

Japan is one of the most sleep-deprived nation in the world. Research suggests that an average Japanese sleep only 6 hours and 35 minutes each night. Hence most tend to doze off during commute or at work, in parks, in coffee shops, in bookstores, in shopping malls, and in any other public place. It is such a normalized habit, that the Japanese have a word for it—inemuri, which means “present while sleeping.”

Dr. Brigitte Steger, a scholar at the University of Cambridge, who studies Japanese culture and can elaborate on Inemuri better.

“I first encountered these intriguing attitudes to sleep during my first stay in Japan in the late 1980s,” she wrote in an article on BBC. “At that time Japan was at the peak of what became known as the Bubble Economy, a phase of extraordinary speculative boom. Daily life was correspondingly hectic. People filled their schedules with work and leisure appointments, and had hardly any time to sleep.”

But there are certain rules to inemuri. “It depends who you are,” says Steger. “If you are new in the company and have to show how actively you are involved, you cannot sleep. But if you are 40 or 50 years old and it is not directly your main topic, you can sleep. The higher up the social ladder you are, the more you can sleep.”

Another hint to analyse the complex etiquettes of inemuri lies in the term itself—to be present while sleeping. “Even though the sleeper might be mentally ‘away’, they have to be able to return to the social situation at hand wherever active contribution is required,” Steger says. “Your body needs to pretend that you are active in a meeting, like you are concentrating. You cannot sleep under the table or anything. You have to sit as if you are listening intently, and just put your head down.”

There are a few close kins  to the inemuri culture that can be found in other countries as well, such as the Spanish siesta (a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal), and the Italian riposo (an extended lunch break that lasts for 2-3 hours allowing people to nap).


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