(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:


However, this experience of sleeping in the presence of others as children is not sufficient on its own to explain the widespread tolerance of inemuri, especially at school and in the workplace. After some years of investigating this subject, I finally realised that on a certain level, inemuri is not considered sleep at all. Not only is it seen as being different from night-time sleep in bed, it is also viewed differently from taking an afternoon nap or power nap.
How can we make sense of this? The clue lies in the term itself, which is composed of two Chinese characters. ‘I’ which means ‘to be present’ in a situation that is not sleep and ‘nemuri’ which means ‘sleep’. Erving Goffman’s concept of “involvement within social situations” is useful I think in helping us grasp the social significance of inemuri and the rules surrounding it. Through our body language and verbal expressions we are involved to some extent in every situation in which we are present. We do, however, have the capacity to divide our attention into dominant and subordinate involvement.
In this context, inemuri can be seen as a subordinate involvement which can be indulged in as long as it does not disturb the social situation at hand – similar to daydreaming. Even though the sleeper might be mentally ‘away’, they have to be able to return to the social situation at hand when active contribution is required. They also have to maintain the impression of fitting in with the dominant involvement by means of body posture, body language, dress code and the like.