Photo/IllutrationA company employee sits at a train station platform after the last train for the night has departed. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Time flies, and it's already mid-December. No doubt, many people will be going to year-end parties this week and/or next week.

But one thing we all want to avoid is to fall asleep on the last train home after an evening of hearty partying, and wake up at an unfamiliar train station far from home.

There is no dearth of such episodes.

Typical cases include hurrying off the train and leaving one's bag behind on the overhead rack; finding no taxi or bus at the station and ending up walking three hours to get home; and taking the last bus, but falling fast asleep and waking up after the vehicle has been locked up in the depot for the night.

But there is a bus company that comes to the rescue of many a hapless train passenger who oversleeps and gets stranded at the station.

Every Friday during December, Nishi Tokyo Bus Co., based in the western Tokyo city of Hachioji, runs one special service that departs from its JR Takao Station terminal and delivers passengers to Hachioji Station in a bustling quarter about 30 minutes away.

This bus can be simply described as a rescue bus for oversleepers.

"The service came into being at the suggestion of an employee who woke up at Takao Station and was annoyed that he couldn't get home," explained a sales representative for the bus company.

Passengers are charged double the normal fare, and about 30 people use the service on busy nights.

Probably from deep relief, almost everyone is said to fall fast asleep as soon as the bus starts. And when getting off, some personally thank the driver for the "rescue."

A little research revealed that people who have overslept on trains and buses--including myself--are anything but few.

According to a survey by Sato Pharmaceutical Co., more than 60 percent of people working in the capital sphere have done it, and one in five of these respondents said they "slept all the way to the last station on the line."

I can well imagine them regretting the extra expenses they had to fork out for a night's lodging, or taxi fare, or food and drink consumed while waiting for the first train to start running the following morning.

It's no fun having aching legs from dancing to a pop tune during a year-end party, but a lot worse fate would be to make the last train only to fall asleep and miss my station, and find myself stranded in the cold.

I hope this won't happen to anyone.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 12

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.