Photograph: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images
The end of Covid-19 restrictions on Japan’s night economy has brought more people onto the streets of Tokyo – but it could also contribute to a wave of deaths among people who are hit by cars as they sleep on the road.
The number of deaths among people who sleep where they drop on the roads of the capital has almost doubled compared to last year, from seven to 13, according to the police.
There are growing fears the death toll could rise again in the next fortnight as office workers gather to mark the end of the year on alcohol Bonenkai parties – a custom many have avoided during the pandemic.
Related: ‘Sleep on the road’ outbreak hits Okinawa as hot weather meets heavy drinking
The sharp rise in the number of fatal incidents has prompted the Metropolitan Police Department to urge people to drink sensibly during the annual bonnkai season and ensure that they and their colleagues return home safely.
Police say 10 of those killed in Tokyo so far this year had been drinking before they were beaten while sitting or lying on the road.
The department has released a public information film featuring comedy duo Cowcow warning people of the risks of excessive drinking and offering other road safety advice. The film is shown on in-car screens in 60,000 taxis in Tokyo and other areas until New Year’s Eve, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.
Police have also asked organizations representing the taxi and trucking industries to ask their drivers to slow down when driving at night and to keep their headlights in full beam.
Bonenkai – literally “forget the year” parties are meant to be a time for co-workers who spend hours together in the workplace to get together for an evening of nominationa portmanteau of the Japanese verb to drink, nameand communications.
But many workers say they dread tradition, due to the pressure to watch their manners in front of their bosses, according to an Asahi Shimbun survey last year in which one respondent described meetings as “utter torment”.
Another poll, conducted by Nippon Life Insurance, found that more than 60% of respondents thought drinking after hours with co-workers was “unnecessary”, while only 11% said it was an absolute necessity. .
Tokyo isn’t the only part of Japan struggling with alcohol-induced drowsiness, with other regions reporting an increase in “sleeping on the road” on weekends and at the end of the year, when people tend to drink more.
In 2020, Okinawa police reported more than 7,000 cases of rojo ne – literally sleeping on the road – the previous year, a phenomenon that some attribute to the mild climate of the South Island and the enthusiastic consumption of awamori, a strong local spirit.