Japanese Language Blog

What a Little Sweet Snoozing Can Tell You Posted by on Jul 30, 2021 in Culture

Inemuri (居眠り), snoozing, is one of the Japanese cultural traits.  Students fall asleep in class. People snooze on a train.  Members of the Diet (国会議員 kokkai giin) snooze during a session.  Local assembly members (地方議員 chihou giin) snooze during an assembly meeting. Wikipedia refers to it as “a custom that is notably seen in Japan.”

Image by 5477687 from Pixabay

Inemuri is often witnessed in the Japanese parliament and local assembly meetings.  Some Japanese TV crews routinely film snoozing assembly members during a session and show the video on TV news. It is pretty popular among viewers, and you would think assembly members all over Japan have learned that there could be a TV camera in the meeting and would try very hard not to snooze.

When they are confronted (突きつける tsukitsukeru) with the video of them snoozing during the meeting, they always say “No, I was not snoozing.  I was just closing my eyes.” Here is one video that was broadcast on March 30, 2021. It was taken in Ibaragi Prefecture Assembly.  As you can see, most of them are older males, and they have been assembly members for years.

Their salary is approximately US$13,000 paid by taxpayers (納税者 nozeisha)!  In many local communities, people still vote for those who are from notable families in their communities, for instance.  And once they get in, they “serve” the community for years.  And that may be one of the reasons that some communities do not want newcomers (please see my blog on Kominka.)  They want the status quo (今そのままの状態 ima sonomama no jotai).

Now, here is something new.  After the mayor resigned relating to a violation of the Public Offices Election Act of the parliament election, the town of Aki Takada in Hiroshima elected a young ex-banker for its mayor who did not have any political experience.

In this video, the new mayor could not ignore the huge snoring (いびき ibiki) sound from a member of the assembly and later talked about it on Twitter.  Then, he was called by the assembly members and asked to apologize. He was threatened not to make a fuss (騒ぎ立てる sawagitateru) or he would make enemies (敵 teki).

So, snoozing during a meeting is OK.  But pointing it out and trying to make it not acceptable is not. Then, how about at school?

According to Newsweek, the number of Japanese high school students who snooze during class is three times that of their US counterparts.  Newsweek attributes this to a Japanese fuzzy (曖昧 aimai) distinction between “on” and “off” times.  For instance, going out for a drink with your colleague after work (off time) can be an extension of corporate life (on time).

Here is a light-hearted experiment of using Daiso’s device, which was invented to prevent snoozing while driving, this time in a class room. If you are a lucky one that lives near a Daiso, which is often called “the Japanese dollar store” but with higher quality items, check it out!

This little act of snoozing gives a glimpse (垣間見せる kaimamiseru) of Japanese society.

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