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PETER ELSON: To sleep, perchance, to dream - it's a right, not a crime.


IN THESE times of madly letting it all hang out, saying and doing what we want in the lemming-like belief that we must express our real selves at all costs, I've discovered a new taboo. And very satisfying it is, too. What's more it beckons ever more strongly to me, and I suspect to many others: this last frontier, this sin that dares not speak its name is the desire for -- sleep. Thanks to American and Japanese business attitudes, with their rapacious desire for unfettered commercial success, the profoundly civilized European habit of siestas has long been regarded as deeply offensive. Yet Churchill won the war by having 40 winks after lunch. The playwright, Alan Ayckbourne, couldn't have put it better in his farce Round and Round the Garden. His character Bill, a librarian, opines: ``A gentleman sleeps at work. That's what work's for. Why do you think they have `Silence' notices in the library? So as not to disturb me in my little nook behind the biography shelves. '' So with great satisfaction I can report that the Japanese have now come round to our way of thinking. Forget the 24-hour city, the Tokyo citizen's most desirable activity is now a damn good snooze. This is because Japan's infamously hierarchical office culture has deemed that sleep is unnecessary. Psychological games of who can stay longest in the office to impress the bosses are rife. (One wonders how much extra productivity -- if any -- is achieved by this posturing. ) Then there's the two-hour train ride home, often standing up. Now with the economic squeeze and the fears of redundancy, the pressure to look perky and alert at all times has become intolerable. Office workers try to cope by getting some extra zeds in napping in office loos, clothes shops changing rooms or the extended testing of electric massage chairs in furniture shops. Beforedropping off, one bank worker explained that everyone in Japan wants more sleep, but nobody can face being caught asleep. Hence the counter-culture that has sprung up in Tokyo's business and financial districts to service this brotherhood of shame.

The solution has been now provided by lunchtime ``good sleep salons'', called Napia.

In spite of only being launched recently, hordes of the tired and yawning are hammering -- or perhaps tapping half-heartedly -- on the doors. The salon is equipped with seven dormitories (four for men and three for women). There are also private rooms for those possibly sensitive about their snoring. The first 40 minutes costs pounds 4 and every 20 minutes thereafter is pounds 2. Extra oxygen costs about pounds 5, but ear plugs are free.

Backed by statistics from the Japanese Sleep Institute, Napia's president woos his clientele with the fact that 20 minutes of lunchtime rest boosts physical and mental energy levels. Office workers have found that, if they eat faster during their average lunch break of an hour, they can get a good 30 minutes of sleep in. Such is the demand that entrepreneurs are moving in to undercut the good sleep salons. In a no-frills package, ballrooms that lie empty during the day are now hiring out sponge mats for 50p per 30 minutes. I suppose it's a sort of easy Bed operation. Even Japan's love hotels, which are struggling to make ends meet, have realised there's brass to be made in this dark business. In a break with hotel pricing tradition, it actually is much cheaper for one person to stay in a room than two. Their rooms have become up market daytime napping centres. There's nothing further to add. Don't disturb me with your thoughts on this as, courtesy of William Shakespeare, I'm putting up a notice saying: ``Let none of you people stir me: I have an exposition of sleep come upon me. '' But I don't know what that is in Japanese.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 22, 2004
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