Liquored up naps, sometimes in car lanes, are so common in one part of Japan that there’s a new vocabulary word for it.

One of the neat things about the Japanese language is that by combining different kanji characters, you can create new words to describe new social developments. For example, when the restaurant industry was born and going out to eat became an option, the kanji for “outside,” 外, and the one for “eat,” 食 were combined to form the word gaishoku, “eat out.”

Theoretically, you can do this with any combination of kanji. Like, you could take the ones for “road”(路), “on/in” (上), and “sleep” (寝) and line them up as 路上寝, which would be read as “rojone” and would mean “sleeping in the street.” Again, though, we’re just talking theoretically here, because it’s not like people sleeping in the street is something happens frequently enough to warrant it’s own vocabu–oh wait, rojone is something that actually does happen surprisingly often in Okinawa Prefecture.

While Okinawa has a particularly unique culture amongst the regions of Japan, rojone isn’t a siesta-like holdover based in the traditional Ryukyu island lifestyle. Instead it’s a modern phenomenon, and one that’s practiced by drunk people, often inadvertently after they fall or lie down somewhere between the last place they were drinking and their home.

▼ Police officers say sometimes people doing rojone are liquored up enough to mistakenly think they actually arrived home and so slip out of their clothes.

In 2019, the Okinawa Prefectural Police received 7,221 reports of rojone, and not just for people curled up on sidewalks or leaning their heads on the curb as a pillow. Sometimes they’re sleeping smack dab in the middle of lanes for cars, and last year 16 rojone nappers were hit by cars, with at least three of them being killed by the collisions.

Those of you who have been to nightlife districts in other parts of Japan may be thinking that you can sometimes spot people sleeping on the sidewalk or slumped over on benches in other heavy-drinking districts, such as Tokyo’s Shibuya, and with Okinawa’s police force being the only one in Japan that keeps official rojone statistics, it’s hard to say numerically how much more severe the problem is in Okinawa. Pedestrian drunks who’ve fallen asleep in car lanes are extremely rare in Tokyo, though, and rojone hasn’t really entered the common vernacular outside of Okinawa. “I’d never heard the term before moving here,” said Tadataka Miyazawa, who joined he Okinawa Prefectural Police last December.

▼ Rojone is such an issue in Okinawa that the local basketball team, the Ryukyu Golden Kings, even had a “Stop Rojone” public awareness campaign.

So why does rojone happen more often in Okinawa? Health and safety officials have a few theories. First, unlike other parts of Japan, Okinawa’s tropical climate keeps it comfortably warm all year long, whereas trying to sleep off a bender on a Tokyo sidewalk in December will pretty quickly sober you up (at least enough to get you slinking off in search of a capsule hotel or manga cafe to crash in). The comparatively laidback personalities of Okinawans has also been theorized to be a contributing factor, as has the prefecture’s representative liquor, the high-alcohol content drink known as awamori.

▼ Another “stop rojone” poster, this one from the Uruma City, Okinawa police department, which also says “Let’s drink a reasonable amount.”

Despite widespread calls for staying home and social distancing this year, police in Okinawa received 2,702 rojone reports between January and June, just about the same number as for that period in 2019. In response, police say they will be more strictly enforcing ordinances against rojone, so hopefully the ability to avoid the associated 50,000-yen fine (US$470) will be enough to convince those who don’t seem to think avoiding getting hit by a car is incentive enough on its own.

Sources: Mainichi Shimbun (1, 2) via Twitter/@EleniPsaltis, Okinawa Times
Top image: Pakutaso
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