Why Do Married Couples In Japan Sleep Separately?

Why is it common for Japanese couples to sleep separately?

The way people sleep — with others, alone, in beds, on floors — varies widely from culture to culture. Now, a professor of territorial studies has published a book saying that Japanese married couples are unusual because high numbers of them sleep in separate places.

The article below, which was the most read article on Yahoo! Japan’s magazines section, discusses the phenomenon, pointing out that sleeping separately in Japan doesn’t necessarily mean that a marital relationship has gone sour…

From Yahoo! Japan:

Is It Only Japan Where Married Couples Sleep Separately? Japanese Couples Rare In The World

“Many Japanese married couples sleep in separate rooms, and this is seen as an unusual phenomenon even when compared with the rest of the world”.

Or so says a book entitled “A Place Where You Can Be Yourself: A Deeper Look Into Houses and Families As Seen In Territorial Studies”, which looks into Japanese married couples. When the author researched the way that couples slept in a Tokyo apartment building, it appears that a total of 26% slept separately. Furthermore, when limited to those couples over 60, the figure rises to 40%. For those still living with their children, “sleeping separately” levels at around 28%; however, when it comes to households where a child is now independent and lives separately to their parents, the the number of married couples who sleep separately is more than half, at 53%.

According to a survey carried out by Seniorcom that was aimed at people over 50, the percentage of couples in Japan who sleep separately was 40%. In neighbouring Korea, the figure is 19%, and in America it was 14% (2004). In the West, couples sleeping separately is considered the beginning of a divorce, and it is thought proper for couples to “sleep together” in the same room. The high number of elderly couples who sleep separately, and whose children are now living separately, in particular, is a rare phenomenon in the world.

And so why are there so many couples sleeping separately in Japan?

The author of the book, Kobayashi Hideki, a professor at Chiba University Graduate School and Faculty of Engineering, analyses that one reason there are a lot of couples who sleep separately is because there is a tradition of the mother sleeping alongside the infant, and that this is linked to why there is no sense of reluctance to going back to sleeping separately in old age.

Another reason, is that the divorce rate is not as high as it is in the US, where “one in two couples divorce”. In Japan, what is remarkable is that there are cases where even though, for example, a couple may be “finished”, the continue to retain their marital relationship without divorcing. That is to say that in Japan, there are a lot of “familial divorces” where although they are a couple in form, they are emotionally distant from each other.

In Japan, the divorce rate has been more or less 35% in recent years, but the middle-aged generation, where “familial divorces” are common, the number of couples opting for divorce are on the rise. In the past ten years, the number of middle-aged couples who have lived together for more than 25 years who then go on to divorce has doubled. When you look only at couples who have been living together for over 30 years, this number almost triples.

Couples have their own individual circumstances. But still, one strategy to make their marital lives better might be for couples to sleep in the same place.

Comments from Twitter:


Wonder if it’s unusual to be driven out by the kids, like in our house? w Well, we sleep in the same room, but I’m on a permanently laid-out futon…wife and kids on the bed…(´・ω・`)


I can’t imagine sleeping in separate beds w


I guess that in terms of environment it is that way, but going a bit further, I think that actually, Japan’s futon culture plays a big role. Because if you’re sleeping on a futon, then you don’t have to worry if you toss and turn in your sleep, you can lie naturally and snore. And then if in the end your snoring is troubling, you just sleep in a separate room.


In our neighbourhood, including our house, 4 out of 7 couples sleep separately. How the remaining three pairs sleep is unclear. I get the impression that if you’re bringing up kids, then actually there are fewer people who sleep in the same bed.


I can’t imagine sleeping separately…If you husband dies, then you really endure the coldness of sleeping alone…I think that’s difficult to swap for the sense of relief you get when you sleep in someone’s arms. Such a pity not to sleep together.

Masa Tanaka:

As far as I know, everyone who sleeps separately is because one of them snores.


Look at that. The relationships that Japanese married couples have are strange.


15 years ago, ever since we became friends, we’ve been good to each other, but we sleep separately. Because he’s so loud! (笑)…Is there a really low percentage of American couples who worry about snoring?


How about people who are vile to each other but sleep together? w. Don’t assume things! (笑)

Ryuji Yamamoto:

Thing is, they’re sleeping with their children…I just don’t get it.

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