Beware of Sleeping In Public; Number of Thefts, Accidents Involving Drunken Nappers on Rise Across Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A police officer on patrol talks to a napper in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, in December.

A growing number of intoxicated people are having their pockets picked after falling asleep on the street or in a train, with over 3,000 such cases reported nationwide last year, up 30% from the previous year.

Around this time of the year, farewell and welcome parties are held in Japan for those relocating or advancing their education or careers in tandem with the new fiscal year starting in April. With this being the first fiscal year-end free from COVID-19-related restrictions, police are stepping up their vigilance for a full-blown party season.

Thieves caught on video

“I shouldn’t have drunk so much that I fell asleep,” a self-employed man from Kanagawa Prefecture said, lamenting the night in October he went to a professional baseball game with his friend.

He had five glasses of beer during the game at Yokohama Stadium and 15 more glasses of highball and other drinks afterwards at an izakaya pub. He then parted with his friend at around midnight and was live-streaming himself walking to the station on his smartphone when he became terribly sleepy.

The man woke up at around 2 a.m. and found himself on a street near the station with his phone and wallet missing. He went to a cell phone store to buy a new phone to check his live-stream video to try and see what happened and was shocked: It showed two men approaching him as he slept on the side of the road and stealing his wallet from his shoulder bag.

The man filed a claim with the Kanagawa prefectural police, and three men in their 40s to 50s, including the two caught on video, were arrested on suspicion of theft in February.


According to the National Police Agency, there were 3,215 thefts targeting public nappers nationwide last year, up 708 from the previous year’s 2,507. The figure is steadily approaching the pre-pandemic year of 2019’s number of 4,177.

About 1,300 of these cases, or 40%, occurred in Tokyo. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, half of the cases occurred on trains, followed by 20% on streets around busy districts and 10% in stations and parks.

The number increased since May 2023 when COVID-19 was downgraded to Category V under the Infectious Diseases Law. In the vicinity of terminal stations in Tokyo, drunken people who missed their last train have been victimized. Thieves’ tricks have become sophisticated: approaching victims under the guise of helping them or checking out targets before stealing their belongings within a short span of time.

In June, a man in his 30s who was drunk and sleeping on the JR Yamanote Line had his Rolex watch worth about ¥1 million stolen. A security camera captured a man sitting next to the victim, taking off the watch from his left wrist in just a few seconds and then getting off the train. The MPD arrested the man in January on suspicion of theft.

In Tokyo, police have strengthened their patrols in busy areas and on trains but have only been able to resolve about 10% of such cases.

“Under the influence of alcohol, people tend to realize the damage later, and it is also often difficult to pinpoint the time and place of the theft,” a senior investigator said.

Road deaths

Sleeping on the streets also raises the risk of getting hit by a car or other incidents.

On the night of Nov. 21, a 31-year-old drunken napper was fatally struck by a car in Tokyo’s Ota Ward. According to the MPD, last year 12 people died and 31 others were injured by cars caused by sleeping on streets.

The same is seen in regional cities. In Toyama, a drunken 44-year-old who apparently fell asleep on a prefectural road was run over in the predawn of Nov. 24.

According to the NPA, fatal accidents involving nappers on streets occur nationwide every year. Of the 895 pedestrians who died in accidents in 2022, 109 — over 10% — were laying down on a street at the time of the incident.

A fine of ¥50,000 may be imposed for violating the Road Traffic Law if wandering around or lying down drunk on a road causes traffic obstruction.

The MPD said many intoxicated people have been taken into custody overnight at police stations after being found in the bustling areas of Tokyo this year as well.

“It is extremely dangerous to fall asleep on the street, as you could be involved in a crime or accident,” a senior MPD official said. “You may lose your valuables, too.”