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Because There Aren’t Enough Places to Smoke In Japan

July 10th, 2004

I Went to Akihabara today to try to find some computer equipment for the school. Every time I go there, I am less and less impressed; really, the electronics stores in Shinjuku are better stocked and with better prices. There was a store called “Liberty” which sells used DVD movies for cheap (¥980 and up), which might be something to visit once in a while, and if you hunt long enough, you might find some cheap junk at some stores in the back alleys, but other than that, I don’t see much use to visiting the place. Maybe 20 years ago some deals could be found and some merchants were willing to dicker and bargain, but now it’s pretty tame.

I did find an interesting new sight, however: a place called “Smoker’s Style” (pictured below). Apparently, a place where they could dwell in smoking heaven while working on their computers, eating snacks and drinks bought from the machines, and so forth.

God knows they need a place like that. After all, with 90% of the coffee shops and restaurants being only mostly smoking (who could stand to be in a place where non-smokers were allowed a corner of the room?), smokers need places like this now more than ever.

Apparently, the room was created by Japan Tobacco, Inc., because, in theory, smoking was banned on Akihabara streets (though not in cafes or restaurants). Funny, because I saw dozens of people smoking on the streets, as well as about a dozen cops walking around, and no one being ticketed. I also saw no prominent no-smoking signs.

Japan Tobacco is still half-owned by the Japanese government (the Finance Ministry, specifically–they owned two-thirds until a month ago, when they sold off 15% of the company for $2.2 billion), and while one part of the government is making the very Japanese-style shallow acts of outlawing smoking on a few streets, another is fighting back with lounges like these. All kind of bizarre, meaningless, superficial–in other words, business as usual.

If you want to keep up with smoking news in Japan, this page is where the action is at. Roughly 53% of Japanese men smoke, the highest percentage among industrialized countries, and Japan is among the nations that tried to block an international antismoking treaty (the U.S. and Germany were the other two holdouts), until revisions watering down the treaty were introduced. So what will Japan do? Increase the warning label on the cigarette packs (maybe) and consider changing the name of its “Mild Seven” brand to one that does not include the word “mild.” Goody.

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