Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Smokers’ air growing thin

April 1, 2009

Japan may not be smokers’ heaven any more.

Commuters in greater Tokyo will see smoke-free stations from April 1, as railway operator JR East launches a total smoking ban on platforms. JR East joins a growing list of major Japanese public spaces and work areas going smokeless amid heightened public health awareness. 

I am a pack-a-day smoker and so don’t go to movies, as I cannot stay smokeless for two hours, as well as some coffee shops, because coffee and smoking to me are inseparable.  Excuse my political incorrectness, but I have felt pinched lately, having to spend more time finding a place to light up.

This may be an increasingly minority opinion and I can already imagine the chorus of scorn citing health statistics as well as second-hand smoke issues. But with all due respect to these sensitivities, I wonder whether one day enjoying the nicotine buzz anywhere in public here will be prohibited, as in France and Ireland. A health ministry official told Reuters last month that Japan may tighten rules on public smoking, and we’ve already seen dramatic change.

When I reached Japan’s smoking age 15 years ago, the nation was still a smokers’ heaven. I was able to have a puff whether on an airplane, in a school cafeteria, or even in a hospital lobby. Things have changed dramatically since then, at least in the eyes of smokers, although it’s fair to say Japan won’t become smokers’ hell soon either.

Government officials have stopped short of calling for a total ban, as they increasingly face the dilemma of both pushing for tougher smoking regulations and needing their share of tobacco tax revenue of more than 2 trillion yen.  The government still owns half of Japan Tobacco, which is publicly traded and set to pay its biggest shareholder an annual dividend of about $265 million.

For regional JR firms, born from the break up of the former state-run railway giant, it should be noted the nation’s high tobacco tax is also used to pay down huge legacy debts of its previous incarnation.

On the local front, I almost jumped to hear my barber tell a customer next to me: “Sorry, you can’t smoke here, as we went non-smoking after renovating recently. That health push is getting really loud these days.” 

The barber shop, a last bastion for heavy smokers including the owner and his assistant, was also falling to the times, or so I thought.

The apologetic owner, scissors and comb still in hand, took a small step back, pointed to a near-by spot and added: “You can smoke from here, as it’s a waiting area.”

Photo credit: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon


Tiger — love your work mate but no sympathy. Nothing worse than standing at traffic lights or railway crossing and swallowing a mouthful of smoke from some oyaji! ;)
You could go clubbing more — no smoking bans there!!! :)

Posted by Alastair Himmer | Report as abusive

No real sympathy from me either; I’m most interested in being able to avoid smoke entirely when I’m in places I absolutely have to be (train stations during my commute and the like). I am in favor of private businesses being able to choose whether to go smoke-free, though, since I can choose not to patronize the ones that stay friendly to the addicts.

http://www.kinen-style.com/ is a website that lets you search for no-smoking establishments. Maybe Japan’s beleaguered smokers will one day put together a similar site for restaurants that let you light up.


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