Tokyo businessmen and women raise beer mugs in a toast at an after-work party.
Employees of a Tokyo company raise beer mugs in a toast at an after-work party. Issei Kato/Reuters

A Tokyo bus company helps out riders who accidentally find themselves stranded at the end of the line in the middle of the night.

In Japan, there’s an expression that signals the importance of drinking with colleagues or clients after work: nomunication. It’s a combination of the Japanese verb nomu (to drink) and the English word communication, and refers to the uninhibited talk that occurs under the influence of alcohol. The idea is that drunkenness allows colleagues to bond and hash out problems, and builds trust between business partners: If you’re willing to let your guard down completely, you’re honest—as is your drinking partner.

Nomunication is perhaps most heavily practiced among colleagues in December, when offices (as well as clubs and groups of friends) organize shindigs called bonenkai, or “forget-the-year parties.” One result of these events: Very drunk people riding the subway late at night.

Earlier this year, a Japanese railway navigation app debuted a “drunk mode” to make it easier for inebriated transit users to get home. Instead of plugging in your current location and destination, you simply press a single button, and the app uses GPS to determine the closest station, the route home, and the time remaining before the last train. (You must initially register your home station for the service to work.)                                

Still, that won’t help if you fall asleep on the last train, miss your stop, and end up in the boonies at the end of the line—a not altogether uncommon occurrence, especially during bonenkai season.

For those who ride the Chuo Line in Tokyo, which begins at Tokyo Station downtown and ends about 30 miles west at Takao Station, in the foothills of the Kanto Mountains, the situation is particularly bleak: The rural area lacks inexpensive hotels and all-night restaurants where the stranded can wait out the night.

For these lost souls, the Nishi Tokyo Bus Company, a private outfit, has come to the rescue for the past four Decembers. Its “Oversleeping Rescue Bus” picks up passengers on three early Saturday mornings at Takao Station—at 1:05 am, 10 minutes after the last train rolls in—and transports them back one stop east, to Hachioji station, for less than $8. Last year, the bus served 75 people, with 32 partaking on a single night.

Though Hachioji is still far from downtown, it’s the most developed neighborhood in the area, with many comfortable places to lay one’s head or sit one’s rear until the trains start running again in the morning. And while such a sojourn delays one’s return home, it beats the alternatives: a pricey taxi ride or a very long walk.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A brownstone in Brooklyn, where Airbnb growth has been particularly strong in recent years.
    Life

    What Airbnb Did to New York City

    Airbnb’s effects on the city’s housing market have been dramatic, a report suggests. And other cities could soon see the same pattern.

  2. A photo of Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct
    Transportation

    As an Elevated Highway Closes, Seattle Braces for Traffic Hell

    By closing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle ushers in a period of short-term commuter pain for long-term waterfront redevelopment gain.

  3. Design

    Will Copenhagen’s Eco-Friendly Man-Made Islands Pay Off?

    The Danish capital is expanding its land mass and creating climate resiliency. But is it sustainable?

  4. Two men plant a young tree in a lot in Detroit.
    Environment

    Why Detroit Residents Pushed Back Against Tree-Planting

    Detroiters were refusing city-sponsored “free trees.” A researcher found out the problem: She was the first person to ask them if they wanted them.

  5. Equity

    The Shutdown Could Delay Tax Refunds for People Who Really Need It

    Millions of low-income households rely on the Earned Income Tax Credit to help them get through the winter. Too bad most IRS workers are furloughed.