Ah, yes. The fabled Rojone, or Drunk Sleeping. The phenomenon of people drinking so much that they pick wherever it is they are, lay down, and begin their nightly slumber. So prevalent in Japan that it has its own word (路上寝: Ro (路 – road), Jo (上 – on), Ne (寝 – sleep). What is it like really in Japan? And how likely are you to spot it on your next Japanese excursion?
A Seasonal Nuisance
So, drunk people in the streets. As you may imagine, the weather dictates a lot of when this will take place. Too cold and you can get some deadly consequences if the person is left to sleep it off on the street. Sure, you can find pictures of drunks in unusual sleeping places on social media, but the cream of the crop is definitely ShibuyaMeltdown on Instagram. Sure, not all of the photos are people in the street, but you definitely can tell that they’ve had a night:
Summer tends to be the preferred time to stretch out on the pavement and catch a few winks, seeing as it is warmer and more comfortable at night to do so.
Okinawa: The Birthplace of Rojone
This leads to problems– big problems– for Okinawa, the beautiful islands in southern Japan. Okinawa: Known for beautiful beaches, diving, and unique cuisine derived from their rich history as the former Ryukyu Kingdom. They also coined this term, it seems, as if you use this elsewhere in Japan, they won’t really understand what you’re saying. Sure, they might be able to suss it out through context but they will, more likely than not, be unfamiliar with the term.
Okinawa’s weather makes Rojone not only possible year round, but really inviting as well. Who wouldn’t want to sleep under the stars on a warm tropical island? Okinawa is also the only prefecture that keeps an official record of Rojone incidents, counting a whopping 7,221 cases back in 2019. It’s uncertain whether or not Corona virus will diminish those numbers, but rest assured, I will be awaiting the official report with bated breath.
Okinawa has even promoted a Stop Rojone campaign to get drunks to, you know, not stop where they are and start sleeping. Here’s a poster leveraging the awesome power of professional basketball to curb the phenomenon:
What are my chances of encountering Rojone?
Fantastic question! If you are strictly a morning or afternoon person, your odds of encountering this is very low. Except if you’re a very early morning person, waking up at 4:00 AM to catch the first trains kind of early. Then, you may see some of the hollow faces of those who woke up with gravel embedded in their faces, their listless eyes staring at the floor as the train rocks them gently, as if to say “there, there. We all have those nights from time to time.”
The night time, particularly near when final trains are heading out (typically after midnight) is when you’ll most likely encounter Rojone. And it won’t just be anywhere. If you’re near an alley with an izakaya, or any of the larger party neighborhoods (Shibuya, Shinjuku), you’ll more likely than not see at least one person riding that struggle bus. If you’re not careful, you may become that cautionary tale for others finishing their night, stepping gingerly over your tired body as you snore away on your makeshift bed.
As for me, I’ve seen a woman slumped down on a train platform, but aside from her, I haven’t been too up close and personal with a snoozing boozer. The station staff were incredibly thoughtful dealing with her and, I’m pretty sure, aren’t being paid enough to handle the hot messes that populate those late-night trains.