No smoke without a cigarette

If you are one of those people that explode in a disproportionate, frothing moral outrage at the mere mention of cigarettes and are planning a move to Japan you should either cancel those flight tickets or bring a lifetime’s supply of blood pressure medication. Though very slight steps have been taken to remedy this recently Japan is still very much a smokers’ paradise.

So far one major area in Tokyo has outlawed smoking on the streets, with a few others placing “no smoking please” street tiles and signs here and there. Though they usually have a small army of geriatrics in uniform patrolling those streets and tapping smokers on the shoulder they don’t yet have the legal right to make you pay fines as has happened in the one government district. My initial thoughts were that this was just another of those job creation schemes for old people; do we really need an old biddy standing next to an escalator all day saying “please take care as you step on the escalator!” or have a small band of them waving miniature light sabers to direct traffic around traffic cones?

Restaurants where the smoking section is in any real measure separate from the non-smoking section are very rare. Places where no smoking is allowed at all only exist in legend and myth. I think only Starbucks refuses outright to let people smoke inside, which is exactly why Tully’s and Excelsior are such superior coffee shops.

Standing ashtrays, kiosks and vending machines are a dime a dozen and tobacco is cheap in Japan. Even after the recent tax “hike” of 20 to 30 yen per packet it is still only an average of 300 Yen (2.5USD, 2 Euro), half that if you buy them duty-free at the airport. The range of choice is staggering too; there are many curiously named brands, all trying to exude class and style with English words as only the Japanese can, and strengths range from the usual 12mg of nicotine to a staggeringly low 1mg. Some designers even won a prize (or was it a mention) for their fabulous series of cigarette packets, in plain colour with simply a letter on the box and a very neat opening mechanism.

So non-smokers had better be the tolerant kind as even I, as a tolerant smoker, am sometimes shocked at the attitude of some in Tokyo. I have often been burned by the cigarette tips of people smoking and freely swinging their arms about. I am still shocked when I see a gaggle of young mothers wheel their babies into the glassed-off smoking section at my favourite coffee shop..
A recent hilarious ad campaign by Japan Tobacco didn’t do its job in teach smoking manners, I’m afraid.

Smokers have an added advantage too, which is the same as back home: it is much easier to bond and befriend your colleagues in the smoking room than at their desks. You’ll integrate easily and maybe even learn some vernacular, something which schools usually don’t teach. The best company gossip is also heard around the ashtray,!
Many parents, government health organizations and rabid anti-smokers will hate me for this, but smoking has definitely eased my stay in Japan.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like Paris, too. Virtually no non-smoking restaurants or bars, and very few where there's a distinction between smoking and non smoking sections. The French are all reputed to be thin as rails. While not strictly true, they do tend to be skinnier on average, and I'm certain that part of this is because of the amount of appetite-supressing cigarette smoke we all inhale. Or as one expat friend puts it, they exist on a diet of espresso coffee, Gauloises, and adulterous sex, of COURSE they're all thin!