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.

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