Why overtired Japan is turning to office siestas
It’s three o’clock in the afternoon in Tokyo, and businesspeople across the city are bouncing between meetings outside the office, sneaking in breaks before heading back. Crouched over small tables in coffee shops with their faces down over their laptops, eyes glazed over, they eventually nod off. People are so tired, sleeping in cafés like this is commonplace. A couple of hours later, those lucky enough to get seats on their cramped train journeys back home shut their eyes again as soon as the train starts moving. But no one around them bats an eyelid. Known as ‘inemuri’, drifting off in public has become synonymous with exhausted workers. However, tolerance of these frequent sightings of inemuri is contributing to the country’s chronic sleeping problem.
OECD statistics, in its 2019 Gender Data Portal, reveal that Japan has the shortest average sleep in the world at 442 minutes per day a year – approximately 7.3 hours a night. South Korea also scored low at 471 minutes, whilst many countries averaged more than 500 minutes (8.3 hours) including Britain, France, Spain, the US and China. A new law capping overtime came into effect in Japan in April 2019 to combat the culture of long working hours that has contributed to workers’ short sleep cycles; the new law limits legal overtime work to 45 hours a month and 360 hours a year.
But companies have also begun taking matters into their own hands, encouraging employees to go for a ‘hirune’ – which literally translates as “lunchtime sleep”. At the headquarters of GMO Internet Group, a Tokyo-based company that provides services like web hosting, strong scents from aromatic lavender oil fill an unused conference room during lunch breaks, aiding the employees who occupy most of its 27 beds to sleep. Called GMO Siesta, the facilities are available every day from 12:30 for an hour. “The habitual aspect of hirune is similar to the concept of siesta,” Takahashi continues. “Some use the room as part of their daily routine to help them rejuvenate for the afternoon. For those with children, it helps them catch up on sleep that they may otherwise miss out on at home.”
‘Karoshi’ – the Japanese term for death from overwork as a result of sleep deprivation – has frequently made headlines in recent years. In 2013, a 31-year-old political reporter at Japan’s national broadcaster NHK suffered heart failure and was found dead in her bed, holding her mobile phone. She had died from working 159 hours of overtime and only getting two days off a month. In 2017, advertising agency Dentsu was fined after a 24-year-old employee jumped out of a window after tweeting: “I’m going to die. I’m so tired.” Its CEO resigned.
1.Nod off (drifting off) = fall asleep, especially briefly or unintentionally.
2.Bat an eyelid = to show no sign of surprise or worry when something unexpected happens
3.Synonymous = If you say that one thing is synonymous with another, you mean that the two things are so closely connected in most people’s minds that one suggests the other
1.What contributes these frequent sightings?
2.How long do Japanese sleep per day a year? How about South Korea?
3.What did companies do to encourage their employees to have lunchtime sleep?
4.Other studies say taking a nap is good for us. What do you think?
5.Should companies implement afternoon siestas? Why or why not?