Sleep deprivation is no joke. The long-term effects of not getting enough shut-eye range from concentration difficulties and irritableness to memory loss, mental exhaustion and poor balance. And even though it’s said that we spend about a third of our lives asleep, for Japanese citizens it may be considerably less. Up until 2020, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development regularly reported Japan as having one of the shortest daily sleep averages in the world. This was most often attributed to a combination of long working hours and commutes that occasionally culminated in fuminfukyu situations — staying up to work all night. 

Fuminfukyu (不眠不休)

Meaning: No rest or sleep, working day and night, stay up all night

Literal translation and kanji breakdown: Fuminfukyu breaks down to 不 (non-), 眠 (sleep), 不 (non-) and 休 (rest), making it easy to read as “no sleep, no rest.”

Fuminfukyu: In Practice

Since there is no exciting origin story for fuminfukyu, let’s explore some familiar sleepless scenarios in Japan instead.

24-Hour Television

Nippon TV’s annual live charity telethon, 24-Jikan Terebi (24時間テレビ), has been on air every August since 1978, making it a summer TV staple. It includes interviews, drama specials and documentaries, as well as a celebrity-focused marathon — all in the name of raising money and highlighting social issues both in Japan and abroad. These days the show runs for much longer than title claims, offering nonstop entertainment over the course of a weekend. The program raises billions of yen for new causes every year but has recently been criticized for spending too much money on production, leaving less for the actual charities involved.

Japan’s Animation Industry

As much as we love anime, the reality of working in the Japanese animation industry is notoriously rough. Many of us consume shows without much thought into the real cost behind their creation. Long hours, tight deadlines and pithy pay leave many talented souls chronically overworked but still struggling to make ends meet. To support them, the non-profit Animator Supporters opened the Animator Dormitory, a low-cost housing system that includes all utilities and access to advice from experts. Former boarders include Masaaki Tanaka, animation director of Attack on Titan (season three) and Tatsuro Kawano, who worked in multiple roles for Boruto: Naruto Next Generations. The organization also publishes regular videos on YouTube about the daily life of animators and those interested in helping out can donate via Animator Dormitory’s Patreon.

Fuminfukyu: Related Expressions

徹夜 Tetsuya Staying up all night

不眠 Fumin Insomnia, sleeplessness

昼夜兼行 Chuya-kenkou Around-the-clock, working day and night

夜を明かす Yo wo akasu Stay up all night, spend the night without sleep

寝食を忘れる Shinshoku wo wasureru Forget to eat and sleep

オールナイト O-ru naito All night, all-nighter

夜なべ Yonabe Night work

休みなしで Yasumi nashi de Without sleeping or resting

睡眠不足 Suimin-busoku Lack of sleep

睡眠時間 Suimin-jikan Sleeping hours, hours of sleep

Using “fuminfukyu” in a sentence

Fuminfukyu is most often used to describe sleepless nights brought on by work commitments or study, but if you’re feeling playful, you can recount a particularly spectacular clubbing spree.

不眠不休の作業も虚しく、締め切りには間に合わなかった。Fuminfukyu no sagyo mo munashiku, shimekiri ni wa maniawanakatta. The sleepless nights were in vain — we didn’t make our deadline.

試験のために何日間も不眠不休していた。Shiken no tame ni nannichikan mo fuminfukyu shiteita. I spent many sleepless nights preparing for that exam.

私たちは不眠不休して、ここまでがんばってきたんだ。Watashitachi wa fuminfukyu shite, koko made ganbattekitanda. We’ve been working nonstop to get to this point. 

毎日の不眠不休の作業が続き、疲労が半端ないな。Mainichi no fuminfukyu no sagyo ga tsudzuki, hirou ga hanpa nai na. We’ve been working without rest every day; the resulting fatigue is no joke.

事故の原因は、運転手が不眠不休で働いたためだ。Jiko no genin wa, untenshu ga fuminfukyu de hataraita tame da. The cause of the accident was the driver’s sleep deprivation.

Want more? Follow our weekly Yojijukugo Japanese Idiom series, published every Friday. Learn the meaning of “jimonjitou” here, “jakuniku-kyoushoku” here and “mikkatenka” here.