Sunday, March 13, 2011

Smart Smoking in Tokyo

As you probably know, Auntie is not a fan of smoking.  You may remember the Spring/Summer 2005 issue of the Auntie Times I wrote about how the recent smoking ban in Italy allowed Auntie and Uncle Jim to shoot eastward into Italy and finally eat pasta in smoke-free comfort. Viva Vietato Fumare!

Well, the world has evolved since then and most places on earth have finally butted out and most countries now realize the health and financial benefits of imposing smoking bans.

While doing research before our recent trip to Tokyo I was horrified to learn that smoking was still going on in public places in Japan.  Curses!  Who would have thought that such a sophisticated and progressive place as Japan would still allow smoking.  

Well, having just returned I can report that indeed,  in Tokyo, smoking is still generally permitted. Most restaurants have both non-smoking and smoking areas, some ban it all together but they are in the minority.

No Smoke, Walks or Butts
But after having been in Tokyo for a few days, I learned that in fact, it has a quite sophisticated and clever non-smoking policy.  For example, there are some neighbourhoods where smoking is not permitted while walking, Ginza being one of them.   How wonderful it was to walk along the street and not have to dodge streams nor clouds of smoke  and run  down the street with your breath held like you do in Hong Kong or Paris.  During our 10 day visit I saw only two people who broke the rules, both of whom unfortunately were foreigners.

In Ginza,  smokers gather on street corners that  are designated as smoking  zones and in some neighbourhoods we found Smoking Lounges, the entrances flanked by cigarette machines so you can stock up before you light up. We spotted many cigarette machines dotting the streets, each dispensing a wide variety of cheap ciggies although along with your Yen you'll need a special card in order to buy them.

Japan's PHP Institute (Peace and Happiness through Prosperity Institute) published a 95-page "Tokyo Kitsuenjo Map" which identifies 200 smoking areas in and around Tokyo where smokers can light up.  The booklet also provides handy details such as if there are public restrooms nearby, Where the cigarette machines  are and which smoking rooms have chairs.  How nice!

Even though cigarettes are widely available day and night and cheap to boot I saw perhaps 5 cigarette butts littering the streets during our stay. 

Puff the Magic Shopper
Shopping Centres are another story.  Smoking is banned throughout but for the convenience of smokers, there are chic little rooms that are thankfully vented to the exterior.  

On the 8th floor of the Shinjuku Marui Department Store there is one such Smoking Room with extraordinarily effective ventilation.  Nearby there was not even a hint of smoke or odour despite the many shoppers happily puffing away while seated inside.

All in all it was interesting to see how the Japanese handle smoking in the modern age.  They showed a true respect for both smokers and non-smokers and created clever ways to achieve equality and happiness for both.  Hooray!

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