Brigitte Steger

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20042005 Forum on Sleep and Dreams

Brigitte Steger

Japanese Studies

Japanese Sleeping Culture: An Intercultural Perspective

In her dissertation, (No) Time to Sleep, A study on sleep in Japan from the perspective of the cultural and social sciences, Dr. Steger developed a number of hypotheses on the cultural and socio-anthropological meanings of sleep. Beginning with providing an English summary of her research on the symbolism of sleep and its cultural and social context in Japan, she compares her findings to current work on sleeping behavior in Europe and North America: in particular, the work of sociologist Steve Kroll-Smith (University of South Carolina) and historian Li Yi (Tacoma College).


Kroll-Smith explores the recent decline of the siesta in the southern hemisphere and the emergence of the workplace nap in the northern, changes he attributes to differing definitions of labor. In the North, cognitive labor increasingly defines work; physical, Fordist-type labor defines it in the South. Kroll’s argument appears to be confirmed by Li’s work on the changes in siesta behavior in China. Dr. Steger relates these findings to the typology of sleeping cultures developed in her dissertation: monophasic sleep cultures, siesta culture, and napping culture.


For Dr. Steger (as Kroll-Smith commented about her work on dozing in parliament), the ‘liminal’ quality of inemuri (to be present and sleep; Japanese) is a far finer, more discrete view of soporific behavior than found in the US. Indeed, ‘daydreaming’ or ‘away behavior’ is subject to reprimand in schools, factory floors, service work, and so on. The idea of when, in fact, ‘active participation in a situation’ is warranted appears to be cultural and begs a cross-cultural inquiry.