Maybe it’s my age or my gender or my nationality or my political leanings or some deeply-repressed kindergarten memory, but I’m a fundamentally cynical person. And here again, I find myself deeply intrigued by Momus‘s ability to project notions of Zen Buddhist calm and anti-consumerist progressivism onto the contemporary Japanese love of sleep. I can’t help but think there may be other forces in the world that explain the national penchant for constant dozing other than vague implications of “free choice” or “cultural determinism.”
Japanese culture is openly pro-sleep the same way it is openly pro-sex, and the existence of all that sloth and lust porn neatly coincides with the fact that Japan is absolutely the least sexed and least rested of all post-Industrial nations. You always want what you can’t have.
But the Japanese obsession with sleeping and eating concerns more than satiating physiological needs: If daily life constantly unfolds in the same mechanical loop of sleeping, commuting, working, commuting, and sleeping, the only moments an individual can truly grasp “alone time” are during meals and naps. At least in the traditional system, work and school involve a total dedication of self to a specific position in a strict hierarchy. Forget “fun” as escape: the constant after-work tsukiai routines undermine the idea of “hitting the town” as a self-driven off-the-clock activity. Sleeping thus becomes a perfect zone to express individualism, where the self can finally disengage from society without the need to make excuses for a lower level of dedication to the organization.
At least in America, time after work is “me time” if not “Miller Time,” and there are enough hours to self-medicate and bask in the (possibly false) sense of freedom before going back to the office to resume cog duty the following morning. Anyone who’s ever worked at a traditional Japanese office — with the milling around for two hours post-“closing time” and the endless drinking with boring old managers and getting home on the last train only to get up the next day and do the same thing again — will know that sleep is the only chance to get the world off your back.
The Journal of Unindustriousness ku:nel is not targeted to people who are engaged in these ego-restraining corporate jobs, but written for younger (female) people with a lot of time on their hands. The same general principle holds though: When society’s eye is watching your every move, sleep may be the only escape.