I just got back from my two week field trip to Kyoto where I set a series of studies with my friend and collaborator, Shoji Itakura. I must say that even though I just flew in yesterday, I seem to have clicked back into a normal cycle of alertness very easily. Maybe that’s because I never actually synchronized while I was in Japan. I hardly seemed to sleep, was awake most of the night watching British TV from illegal proxy sites and spent most of the day in a constant stupor. My body clock was playing havoc with all my systems so thermoregulation, digestion and even my 6 o’clock shadow was failing to adapt to the new time zone.
But then I began to wonder if it was just Westerners who seemed to have trouble keeping awake during the day. Whenever I used buses or trains, I noticed that commuters seemed to fall asleep at a moments notice. There are many examples on You Tube and I am reliably told that this behaviour is fairly common. Japan has double the population of the UK and the islands are roughly twice the land mass but because most of the terrain is mountainous, the whole nation is squeezed into some of the most populated regions of space on the planet. The Japanese may rise very early, spend their days working hard before a long commute home, but I reckon there is simply not enough oxygen in the cities to keep everyone awake. No wonder oxygen bars known as ‘air stations’ flourished there first. Maybe that’s why it is called the “Land of the Rising Sun” – people are in a constant state of half wakefulness!