The office nap has become an important aid to improving efficiency in Japan. Photo: Rob Homer
Saitama, Japan: It was a little after 1.30pm and a male employee at Okuta Corp, a housing renovation firm in Saitama, Japan, placed a small pillow on his desk. He buried his face in the pillow and went to sleep while other employees continued working at their computers.
He wasn't shirking his responsibilities, he was using the company's "power-nap system," which grants employees the right to take a nap.
An increasing number of companies have begun allowing their employees to nap at work, to maintain their performance levels and prevent mistakes by relieving drowsiness. Some cafes and massage parlours have also begun to offer napping spaces.
Okuta set up its system two years ago, at the initiative of company Chairman Isamu Okuta, to increase employees' work efficiency.
No formal procedures are needed for employees to take a nap. When they feel drowsy, they can doze for 15 to 20 minutes at their desk or in a staff lounge. Most of the employees have used the system. Long seminars and meetings offer an afternoon break just for that purpose.
Ikuko Yamada, 33, who works in the accounting department, said: "If I use a calculator when I'm sleepy, I have to double-check my work for fear of making mistakes, so it takes longer than usual. I think my work performance has improved since I started taking naps."
The average sleep time of the Japanese is generally shorter than that of people overseas.
According to survey results released in March by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Japanese people sleep for the average of 7 hours and 43 minutes a day, more than 30 minutes less than the average of 8 hours and 19 minutes among the surveyed 26 countries. Japan had the second-shortest sleep time, following South Korea.
In March, the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry released the first revisions in 11 years to its guidelines on sleep for better health. The guidelines pointed out that working-age people have difficulty securing enough sleep, and recommended napping for 30 minutes or less in the early afternoon to improve work performance.
Hugo Inc., an Internet consulting company in Osaka, also allows employees to take a nap at work. The company seven years ago introduced a policy in which workers can take a siesta, which means a nap after lunch in Spanish, between 1pm and 4pm. Modelled on similar systems at companies in Spain and elsewhere, it recommends napping for about 30 minutes during that time.
Company president Daisuke Nakata, 34, said: "If you can't make decisions quickly or appropriately, or if you can't come up with good ideas, it's probably because you're sleepy. After a siesta, we feel refreshed and work efficiently."
Some commercial facilities offer space for taking a daytime nap.
Ohirune Cafe Corne in Tokyo is a napping salon exclusively for female customers. The facility was opened in November by nemulog, a Tokyo company that operates a website for recording users' sleep time.
Customers pay 160 yen (about $1.70) for every 10 minutes of nap time. The salon offers mattress-type beds, each with a canopy, in a space scented with aroma oil. Customers can choose their favourite pillow from 17 types that differ in firmness and shape, and rent nightwear for an additional fee.
The salon also offers a popular lunch and afternoon nap package.
"Many women have been forced to reduce their sleep time, as they are busy with work, household chores, raising children and other matters," shop manager Sakiko Tsukashima said. "I want them to effectively use short breaks for sleeping."
One massage shop in Nagoya offers a service for taking naps in a special chair that warms the lower body. Prices start at 600 yen for 15 minutes.
Shuichiro Shirakawa, a doctor and the managing director of the researchers group Japan Organisation of Better Sleep, said: "Sleepiness intensifies every 12 hours, so we feel drowsy in the afternoon like we do at night. It's already been shown that taking a short nap rejuvenates brain functions for data processing and similar work. Taking a nap during the day is also effective in preventing mistakes at work."