January 22, 2017 1:00 pm JST

Japanese companies take on insomnia

There's a market in helping people doze off -- even during work breaks

TARO MATSUSHITA, Nikkei staff writer

TOKYO -- Capitalism is coming up with solutions for those who complain they just can't seem to get enough sleep. At least it is in Japan.

The dreary-eyed masses are driving the trend as they learn more about the benefits of sleep -- even from a short daytime nap.

So businesses are coming up with new ideas, services and products.

3rd Seat is a parlor of sorts where customers can relax on loungers in single-person booths. The salon, in the capital's Chuo Ward, has 15 booths where customers are encouraged to nod off.

It even has a lunch set -- one hour, some pasta, and a drink for 980 yen ($8.56).

"We have lots of repeat customers, and oftentimes all of the seats are taken around noon," said Takehiko Kita, the shop's manager.

Parlors like 3rd Seat are growing in number. It is not difficult to see why.

According to a 2015 survey by Japan's health ministry, only a half of the male respondents said they had "no obstacle" to securing time to sleep; about 40% of the female respondents gave the same answer.

According to the survey -- which wondered about health and nutrition -- work, household chores and child rearing are major obstacles between many of us and enough sleep.

Another chain of salons, Goku no Kimochi, actually tries to lull customers to sleep with a "head spa."

That's Japanese English for "scalp massage."

The Kyoto-based chain also has outlets in Tokyo and Osaka. Its masseurs want customers to "pass into a slumber in comfort." They use a technique that, unlike the usual head spa given at Japanese beauty salons, does not use water.

The service is priced from 5,700 yen to 6,200 yen for a basic 60-minute spa and snooze.

Established in Kyoto in 2008, Goku no Kimochi has won a following with its massage technique, which allows customers to return to work without feeling embarrassed about how their hair might look.

The chain's fourth outlet, in Tokyo's Ginza district, opened in July.

"Some customers say they can fall asleep quickly for a few nights after they have received our head spa," said Saki Kazama, a Goku no Kimochi massage therapist.

Reservations are required, and the shops are fully booked three months ahead of time, according to the operator.

While parlors like 3rd Seat and Goku no Kimochi help customers catch up on their sleep during the day, the remm hotel chain, operated by Hankyu Hanshin Hotels, wants to help customers drift into unconsciousness once they finish their day.

The hotels can be found in Tokyo,Osaka and Kagoshima.

The rooms' beds feature mattresses with extra springs. The single rooms have no bathtubs. Instead, a shower booth is separated from the rest of the room by a glass wall to "make these rooms feel large and more comfortable," a company spokesperson said.

The fifth remm is to open in March, in Tokyo's Roppongi district.

As for devices, 2breathe is a belt-like wearable that syncs to a smartphone app. It was introduced last March by Nemulog, Tokyo-based subsidiary of Teijin, a leading textiles maker.

The belt, which sells for about $130, guides the user to breathe in a way thought to be conducive to drowsiness. A sensor detects the pace of the user's breathing and, based on this, the app produces a tone through the user's smartphone. The tone is repeated at just the right interval, prodding the user into prolonged exhalations.

Sales have been growing at a brisk pace, a Teijin spokesperson said.

Another device, Omron Healthcare's SleepDesign Navi HSL-003T, is also meant to help users better manage their sleep.

Placed near the pillow, the 5,900 yen tool, which also works with a smartphone app, pays attention to tossing and turning, then detects and records the time the body falls asleep. Shh.

Teijin Ltd.

Japan

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