Sleeping in Trains with Strangers

Translating what I daily see through photographs

Anne Murayama
5 min readJan 29, 2020

Here in Japan, I take Boomerang snaps of people sleeping, mostly inside the trains, and I publish them as short-lived series on my Instagram stories.

For every moving photo, I plaster a huge one-liner, all caps and in bold, which says OTSUKARESAMADESU.

Friends/Followers have asked me a bunch of times – what does the phrase mean? It doesn’t have a direct English translation, but it loosely means “Thank you for your hard work.”

Here, especially in the workplace, when you greet a colleague along the office corridor, you say “Otsukaresamadesu.”

When you clock out for today’s shift, you don’t just say goodbye to your bosses and coworkers. You also say, in its past tense, “Otsukaresamadeshita.”

When you’re having dinner at home after a long day’s work, you say “Kanpai,” followed by a more casual “Otsukare!”

I hear it all the time everywhere, which makes me wonder about how workaholic – or deathly, sometimes – Japan is.

Here in Japan, they say that once you’re able to sleep in your commute and you’re able to wake up at the station you’re supposed to get off at, you can consider yourself a local. Super special combo if you’re able to do it when you’re drunk.

Here, sleeping in trains is holy. Most people respect the quietness. Whether your train ride is 15 minutes short or 50…

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Anne Murayama

fka Erin Cross. Based in Tokyo, Japan. Black and white visual storyteller.