What is inemuri

Learning from Japan means learning to sleep: A non-fiction book examines the sleeping habits of the Japanese - little at night, but during the day wherever it fits.
How does the Japanese do it? He's just sitting in the subway with his eyes closed, apparently deep asleep. The next moment he jumps up, picks up the briefcase and gets off at his stop. Inemuri is the magic word. It is composed of the characters (i) ru ("to be present") and nemuri ("sleep") and can be translated as "to sleep present".
Inemuri is an integral part of the Japanese sleep culture. Mostly it is held in a sitting or standing position. Sleep can last anywhere from a few seconds to several hours. In contrast to the classic siesta, for which one retreats into private life, Inemuri takes place in public: on the train or on the park bench, in the cinema or while eating, in school or in concert, in libraries, conferences and parliamentary sessions. Businesspeople in suits and suits take their naps in front of everyone, of course. Western visitors usually interpret this as a sign of chronic exhaustion among the tirelessly working Japanese. In fact, people in Japan spend significantly less time in bed at night than the rest of the world. Contrary to popular belief that the Japanese devoted their entire lives to their company and work, leisure activities have become more important in recent decades - at the expense of sleep.

The phenomenon of daytime sleep, however, is not a phenomenon of modern times. For centuries, the Japanese have cultivated a different sleep culture than people in the West. The differences are already visible in infancy. While babies in Europe and the USA are accustomed to a regular sleep rhythm at an early age according to the motto "Every child can learn to sleep", the sleeping times of Japanese children are less strictly defined. In the first few years, of course, the child sleeps on the futon with their parents. If they want to rest during the day, they can just lie down somewhere while they cook or eat in the same room and the TV is on. Japanese children are therefore used to sleeping in the presence of other awake people from an early age. As in other cultures - such as the Indian - a "polyphasic sleep pattern" prevailed in the traditional rural society of Japan with shortened night sleep and various short sleep phases distributed throughout the day. Only in the course of the modernization of the country did the monophasic sleep pattern with an eight-hour night's sleep, which is valid in the west, find its way. “Eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep, eight hours for whatever you want” - this is how the American pioneers of the labor movement defined a decent life around a hundred years ago. From the first half of the 20th century, this view gradually gained acceptance in the economically strengthening Japan. But even if night sleep is now regarded as the most natural form of sleep here, the nap culture has been preserved.

In her book, which is by no means tiring, the Japanologist Brigitte Steger deals with the customs and social rules of Inemuri. In short interviews, she lets people from all walks of life and age groups talk about their sleeping habits. She reports in detail on common methods of shortening sleep and asks whether we can learn anything from the Japanese when it comes to sleep. After all: Western chronobiologists and physicians are now also praising the “strategic nap” to increase workforce and productivity. A growing number of US and European companies even offer their employees rooms for the so-called power nap, which is supposed to encourage creativity and flashes of inspiration. For most Japanese, however, Inemuri is above all a source of well-being, beyond all stupid usefulness-thinking. One of the interviewed employees sums it up: "Sleeping is the greatest bliss."

Source: TAZ article from July 15, 2007 - Author: Marion Lühe