Something I don’t like about Japan

I quite like this sign; I wish it had more of a deterrent effect.
I quite like this anti-smoking public awareness sign; I wish it had more of a deterrent effect.

Every place has good aspects and not-so-good aspects. Pros and cons. There is much I love about Japan, but naturally there are many things about which I cannot take a culturally relativist stance. For example: the cultural of overwork (a close cousin of bureaucratic inefficiency, I believe). Also: the exclusion of women from positions of power (social, political, corporate), prevalence of harassment, traditional gender roles. Maybe I’ll write about some of these issues someday. But here’s a simpler thing for now, one that I cannot accept:

So much smoking.

I guess the banning of smoking from restaurants, bars, and public places is relatively recent around the world, but even freaking Ireland has banned smoking for all workplaces, including pubs, for 12 years. I now expect and indeed require that there is no smoking indoors.

In Japan, however, some restaurants, bars, etc. still allow smoking, sometimes with the ridiculous idea of a “smoking section”, as if the stench could be contained. Even in areas like airports or malls that have separate smoking rooms, the smell (and toxicity) leaks out.

I had a very unpleasant experience back in December (pre-move visit) when Y and I tried to have tea with a friend in a cafe. It was in a fancy hotel lobby, where you would expect a nice atmosphere, but there were people smoking right next to us, befouling the air. We couldn’t stand it and just left. Another place that always gets me is a small restaurant in a shopping centre that allows smoking. It happens to be near an entrance that I use, plus my nearest ATM. I always hold my breath when going by, but it stinks up the whole floor.

I also see people smoking on the street a fair bit, usually hanging around outside a building, or sometimes while riding a bike. To be fair, I can’t recall seeing cigarette butts around nor having smoke blown in my face,  unlike Barrack Street or Crescent Street, exemplary bad spots in my two previous cities.

Cigarettes are super cheap and can be bought from vending machines (but of course) and at konbinis (convenience stores). Smoking is illegal for people under 20 but there doesn’t seem to be much, if any, enforcement of that.

From my observations, the vast majority of smokers are older men (like most places, I guess), although I see a lot of younger men and occasionally women.

The prevalence of smoking, especially in restaurants, really surprises me about Japan. I mean, it’s a culture dominated by old guys, so that part makes sense, but in general there is a strong reluctance to impose upon others in Japanese society. Second hand smoke, though, and the lingering scent of a smoker, are pretty significant impositions.

This article from suggests that smoking is on the decline; I certainly hope that is true!


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