We’ve all seen them. We’ve probably been one ourselves. A drunk in public. After a heavy drinking party, salarymen and other men and women will stumble out of a drinking establishment, drunk and unwell, stumbling around the pavement, trying to get to the train station. Most make it home successfully. Some don’t.
I myself have seen people passed out on the streets, outside train stations, on platforms, inside the trains, pretty much everywhere. I have seen salarymen drink to the point of falling dead asleep at the table next to all of their drinking buddies, who continued to drink and ignore their passed out friend. I have even stood one meter away from a young man on a train who threw up right where he stood on the floor, on the train door, and on himself.
This kind of sight is so common that photos taken and uploaded online have been made into memes and an overall internet sensation.
There are drunk people everywhere on the streets of Tokyo, and many drink to the point of blacking out. It is a problem exacerbated by co-workers who pressure over-drinking and shops that don’t restrict overconsumption.
However, this does not necessarily make Japan special. There are drunk passed out people in every country. But the surrounding public tends to have a rather unempathetic and detached attitude towards public drunks. Workers will be abandoned by their co-workers after passing out, young adults by their friends, and strangers will generally completely ignore collapsed people around train stations. Those dead drunks could be dead for all we know, and everyone just walks on.
This is semi-true for the police as well. I work at an izakaya, and after my shift ends late at night I encounter passed out people every now and again. The entrance of the train station often has many passed out visitors, half-slumped against the building walls. With a police box stationed right outside the station and an officer always standing vigil right outside, I was shocked the first time I saw a police officer ignore all the passed out people around him. Aren’t officers supposed to protect and help people?
Turns out not so much. Unless that person becomes a danger to other people or breaks a law, police will leave drunks alone. There are too many drunks and not enough police officers to take care of them.
In most other developed countries calling medical services or the police would be the first reaction of most people who stumble upon a passed out person in the street. But don’t be surprised to see so many people passed out when you go to Japan, or surprised to see that no one else seems to care.