Monday, September 10, 2012

Why do Japanese people sleep on the train?

I’ve officially been in Japan for a year now and one thing that has had me puzzled all along is the phenomenon of people sleeping on trains. It’s hardly uncommon to get on a train in the morning and see a whole row of people fast asleep. The way in which Japanese people can fall into (and come out of) a deep sleep so quickly is simply amazing!

That's what it's all about!

If you’re like me, you’ve seen these people and you’ve been green with envy. If you’re like me, you already know that you simply can't allow yourself to fall asleep on the train for cultural and psychological reasons. It's not really common to sleep on the train in the West (or at least in the UK) but when you consider the next few points, it’s quite easy to see why sleeping on the train is both safe and socially acceptable in Japan!

Low crime rates, high conviction rates

In 1989, there were only 1.3 robberies per 100,000 people in Japan. When compared with the 65.8 robberies and 233.0 robberies in Great Britain and the USA respectively, it becomes clear that Japan lives up to its position as one of the safest countries in the world. Added to that, Japanese police tend to solve far more robberies (75.9%) when compared with Great Britain (26.5%) and the USA (26%). Although these figures are a bit out-dated, I can’t really see either of the two becoming safer than Japan in the near future. While it’s debatable as to exactly why Japan’s crime figures are so low (at least in this category) it’s obvious that the vast majority of Japanese people consider trains safe enough to sleep without fear of having their belongings taken.

Just to note that this guy wasn't actually arrested for stealing!

I would personally never dream of sleeping on a train in the UK because you never know what might happen. If someone doesn’t take your phone and/or your wallet, you’ll be lucky if some ill-disciplined teenagers don't treat you to a happy slap to “help” you wake up. Granted, I may be exaggerating for comedic value, but the fact remains that Japan is much safer than the UK in most respects.

Extended working hours and long distance commuting

While the rise in part-time and temporary workers has lowered average working hours, Japan is still recognised as one of the world’s hardest working nations. A combination of guilt and solidarity means that many bosses and their subordinates maintain long working hours, afraid of letting the team down if they leave early. The captain doesn't want to leave his ship behind, but the men below him won’t leave until he does - what a vicious circle!

Making maters worse is the extremely high cost of land in places like Tokyo and central Osaka. House prices and rent are in fact so high that many choose to live far away from their workplace in order to save money. Unfortunately, this can lead to a very long commute. Combining these two elements leads to some seriously tired individuals, all too happy to catch up on a few winks of sleep whenever they aren’t working. And where are they when they aren’t working? On the train..

showing a bit of leg there, are we?

So there you have it. Japanese people have plenty of reasons to sleep on the train. Many are exhausted after a long day at work and those arriving home around or after midnight have to sleep on the train in order to maintain an acceptable daily amount of shut-eye. Japan is a country in which I openly walk around with my wallet in my back pocket, so you can imagine how much I trust the people here not to mug me! If my company hadn't provided me with a free bike for the daily commute, I probably would have learned to sleep on the train by now. Unfortunately, being the gaijin that I am, my brain simply doesn't allow me to fall into anything more than a very shallow state of sleep.

Bloody Japanese people!


  1. i could never sleep on the train in japan for one simple reason: i was afraid i'd miss my stop

    1. Haha Yeah don't worry I'm going to touch on the subject of Japanese people miraculously waking up on trains in my next post :P

  2. I totally agree and wrote a similar post wondering why it is so common. Great pictures as well. I saw so many Japanese people asleep on the trains, if not entire carraiges of people sleeping.

    1. Hey Andrew thanks for your comment I just read your post!
      Very cool haha! I like your suggestions about carbohydrates and long intestines!

  3. Not a japanese (other asian) but I sleep on trains too. It took 90mins from station near my office to my home so most of the time I sleep. Sometime I sleep holding my phone. So far it's safe but one time a couple wake me up cos I'm still holding my phone, they afraid somebody can stole it so they tell me to put it inside my bag.
    Oh and 95% I always wake up on time, right before entering my station or one station before it. The times I pass my station was when I super tired (and lack of sleep the night before).

  4. Thanks for compiling such nicest information in your blogs. Articles are very informative and hope again I’ll find more like

  5. Very informative, thank you very much.


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