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

56_high_fashion_pawel_jaszczukCourtesy of Pawel Jaszczuk

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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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

... others are shown simply dozing off standing up.

... others are shown simply dozing off standing up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That's why I was moving all the time," he said.

"That's why I was moving all the time," he said.

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

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

Jaszczuk said he navigated the streets at night by bicycle.

Jaszczuk said he navigated the streets at night by bicycle.

Biking around "did the job perfectly," he said.

Biking around "did the job perfectly," he said.

"I was hunting," he said.

"I was hunting," he said.

Although he said he would come across many sleeping businessmen ...

Although he said he would come across many sleeping businessmen ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They never woke up, ever," Jaszczuk said.

"They never woke up, ever," Jaszczuk said.

"I'm quick, even when there is plenty of time to shoot," he said.

"I'm quick, even when there is plenty of time to shoot," he said.

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

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

Neither passersby nor the authorities gave him trouble, either.

Neither passersby nor the authorities gave him trouble, either.

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

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

But with "High Fashion," it was a bit different.

But with "High Fashion," it was a bit different.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

Source: Business Insider

There's even a name for the phenomenon: karoshi, which translates to "death by overwork."

There's even a name for the phenomenon: karoshi, which translates to "death by overwork."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Source: The New York Times

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

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

Source: Business Insider

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

Source: The Guardian

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Business Insider

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

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

Source: Business Insider

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

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

Source: Business Insider

"Don't judge them too [hastily,]" Jaszczuk said.

"Don't judge them too [hastily,]" Jaszczuk said.

While most of the subjects he photographed were fast asleep...

While most of the subjects he photographed were fast asleep...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Source: Business Insider

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

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

Source: Business Insider

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

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

Source: Business Insider

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

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

Source: Business Insider

Strokes and heart failure became more common for Japanese employees.

Strokes and heart failure became more common for Japanese employees.

Source: Business Insider

Decades later, karoshi-related deaths are still occurring.

Decades later, karoshi-related deaths are still occurring.

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.

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.

Source: Business Insider

Her death was determined to be karoshi in October 2017.

Her death was determined to be karoshi in October 2017.

Source: Business Insider

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

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

Source: Business Insider

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Source: Business Insider

But it's seen little success.

But it's seen little success.

Source: Business Insider

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

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

Source: Business Insider

Jaszczuk said he wanted his photos to convey that.

Jaszczuk said he wanted his photos to convey that.

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

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

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

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

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

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