Striking photos of businessmen sleeping on dirty streets illustrate Japan's tireless work culture

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukIt’s not as uncommon as you’d think to see men clad in business attire asleep on the streets of Tokyo, thanks to Japan’s longtime unrelenting work culture.


Jaszczuk, who divides his time and work between Warsaw and Japan, told Business Insider that he was living in Tokyo when he began to notice a unique phenomenon.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

In the wee hours of the night, he noticed men dressed in business suits fast asleep on the streets of Tokyo.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

“The contrast between well-dressed men and the street got my attention,” Jaszczuk said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

In 2008, he started photographing the sleeping businessmen that he would come across.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Jaszczuk’s photos show some taking to city benches, fences, and subway platforms to get a little shut eye …

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

… others are shown simply dozing off standing up.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

The more and more he shot, the more common of a phenomenon he said it seemed to be.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Jaszczuk said the slumbering businessmen are easy to find for the most part, if you know where to look for them.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

He said he knew that perusing nearby train stations and karaoke bars would always prove fruitful.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

“After some research, I knew which areas would be the best, because they are not everywhere,” Jaszczuk said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Tokyo’s Shinjuku and Shimbashi districts, in particular, known for their business, commercial, and entertainment centres, were full of dozing employees, he said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

But he would also occasionally find some one-offs elsewhere.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

“That’s why I was moving all the time,” he said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

For more than two years, Jaszczuk said he worked almost every night taking photos of the sleeping workers.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Jaszczuk said he navigated the streets at night by bicycle.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Biking around “did the job perfectly,” he said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

“I was hunting,” he said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Although he said he would come across many sleeping businessmen …

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

… he said he didn’t include photographs of everyone he found in his series.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

“I am very picky, I was carefully selecting them among many,” Jaszczuk said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

He said that he was looking for style, beauty, and oddity in the slumbering subjects he photographed.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

He compiled the images into a book, “High Fashion,” that was published in 2018.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Amazon


Since he was taking photos at night, Jaszczuk said he needed something to light his subjects.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

He said he always used a flash, albeit a small one.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Despite the bright flash of light with each shot, he said it didn’t bother his subjects.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

“They never woke up, ever,” Jaszczuk said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

“I’m quick, even when there is plenty of time to shoot,” he said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

He said he never had problems of any kind with the sleeping salarymen.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Neither passersby nor the authorities gave him trouble, either.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

The photographer said that in his photo work, he usually knows what kind of message he wants to convey before embarking on a project.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

But with “High Fashion,” it was a bit different.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

“The visual part appears first, the message came later,” Jaszczuk said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

After just the first few photos were taken, Jaszczuk said he began to explore that message: a cultural phenomenon that had these businessmen sleeping on the streets in between work days.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

In fact, Jaszczuk said what he had begun capturing was a symptom of Japan’s notorious culture of overwork.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


The culture of overwork can be so intense in Japan that businessmen, called “salarymen” in Japanese culture, have even died from overworking themselves.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


There’s even a name for the phenomenon: karoshi, which translates to “death by overwork.”

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


A 2016 report revealed that more than 20% of people in a survey of 10,000 Japanese workers said they worked at least 80 hours of overtime a month.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


The term “inemuri,” which translates to “sleeping on duty” or “sleeping while present,” describes a cultural phenomenon in Japan that praises napping in public, which implies that an employee has worked him or herself to exhaustion.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: The New York Times


Brigitte Steger, a senior lecturer in Japanese studies at Downing College, Cambridge, told The New York Times that inemuri, a thousand-year-old practice in Japan, is more prevalent in white-collar professions.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: The New York Times


That’s because employees are more likely to be sedentary and can afford to doze off in meetings and the like.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: The New York Times


After putting in a long workday, it’s also customary for some salarymen in Japan to drink and socialise with their colleagues.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


Jaszczuk told Business Insider that it is socially acceptable in Japan to hit the bars after work.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider and Pawel Jaszczuk


But even more than that, Jazczuk said workers can sometimes feel an obligation to drink with their coworkers and bosses after work hours.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: GaijinPot Blog


After too many drinks, and having missed the last train that would take them home, some workers are left stranded in the city center.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: The Guardian


He said when morning comes, he’s never seen them awake from their sleep.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

But he’s heard that they simply get up and walk back to the office to start the new day.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

As for the men themselves, Jaszczuk said they’re a product of their work culture.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


“These men are the victims of modern life in Japan,” Jaszczuk told Business Insider.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


He said that they are physically “devastated by the after-effects of working long hours.”

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


“Don’t judge them too [hastily,]” Jaszczuk said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

While most of the subjects he photographed were fast asleep…

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

… even if they were slightly awake, Jaszczuk said he could see how worn out they were.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

“When their faces happen to reflect consciousness at all, we see someone completely used, overworked, and exhausted,” Jaszczuk said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

The cultural expectation in Japan to devote so much time to work is nothing new.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


The karoshi phenomenon, the phrase used to describe overwork-related deaths, dates back to the post-World War II era in the early 1950s.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


Determined to rebuild Japan’s economy, the then-prime minister Shigeru Yoshida turned to major corporations to incentivise workers into devoting more time to their work.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


The plan clearly worked, since Japan’s economy is now the third largest in the world.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


But an unintended side effect was an ailment spurred by the burdensome levels of stress and exhaustion.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


Strokes and heart failure became more common for Japanese employees.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


Decades later, karoshi-related deaths are still occurring.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


Most recently, a 31-year-old journalist named Miwa Sado died of heart failure in July 2013 after reportedly logging 159 hours of overtime in a one-month period.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


Her death was determined to be karoshi in October 2017.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


When employees’ deaths are classified as karoshi, Japanese corporations are forced to pay a fine.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


Sado’s employer only had to pay what amounts to $5,000 USD in fines following her death.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


The Japanese government has taken some measures to increase a work-life balance in addition to implementing fines on corporations whose employees die of karoshi-related causes.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


One of them is a Premium Friday plan launched in 2017 that would give workers the option to leave at 3 p.m. on the last Friday of each month.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


But it’s seen little success.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


Working overtime remains a pervasive aspect of corporate culture in Japan.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

Source: Business Insider


Jaszczuk said he wanted his photos to convey that.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

“I want to say something when something needs to be said,” Jaszczuk said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

He said he felt it necessary to bring attention to how overstressed Japanese workers are regularly.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

“The images provoke, irritate, and inform at the same time,” Jaszczuk said.

Courtesy of Pawel JaszczukThe men pictured in this photo series are sleeping.

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