Why Sleeping at Work in Japan is Actually a Good Thing

Welcome to Japan, where dozing off at work is perfectly fine. In fact, it might even get you a promotion in the near future, as it shows the level of “dedication” you have for your job.

Clearly, it’s an envy of the rest of the world, but how exactly is it possible?

First, it’s no secret that Japanese employees are some of the hardest working in the world, sometimes literally working to death. Twenty-three percent of them render at least 80 hours of work each week, while an alarming 12% put in over 100 hours. These and everything in between explains why the ironic practice of “sleeping while working” is, quite appropriately, tolerated.

The phenomenon is called “inemuri,” and apparently, it’s been around for at least 1,000 years, The New York Times noted. However, this term for “sleeping on duty” does not only apply to the workplace.

Photo by tenaciousme/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Image via tenaciousme/Flickr

Inemuri can be done in virtually all social situations, where elsewhere in the world would be plain rude. In Japan, nobody cares if you nap in cafes, malls, restaurants, public transport and even sidewalks. People mind their own business.

In line with Japan’s hardworking employees is its society’s perspective on time — multitasking is 100% possible. One can sleep his way through a corporate meeting unscathed; he’s “present,” anyway.

[Resized] Photo by Hiroo Yamagata/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image via Hiroo Yamagata/Flickr
It’s important to know, however, that an employee’s age and length of stay in the company matters. Dr. Brigitte Steger, a lecturer in Japanese studies, explained (via The Guardian):

“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.”

One’s sleeping position must also be socially-acceptable. That is, you can’t just bring pillows and sheets to work and go on a full-body supine. As Dr. Steger put it:

“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.”

The rule of thumb is to maintain a personal space that does not violate other peoples’ personal space.

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