When I first moved to Japan, in ’04, smoking was an almost universal thing. It was like 1984–not the album, or the book–secondhand smoke just sort of hung everywhere. Restaurants had their nominal “smoking sections”… but those were usually separated off from the rest of the eatery by a waist-high basin filled with some kind of fake shrubbery. (And that was only even remotely regulated beginning in 2003.)
In my office–a government office, mind you–the smoking sections were basically restricted to places like:
1) Your desk.
2) The office couch.
3) Anyone else’s desk.
4) Wherever you were standing/sitting.
Best I could tell, the only place you could not smoke was anywhere near where kids were playing or being educated. Like…you couldn’t smoke *on* the playground, or *in* the classroom.
One of the more nostalgic East Asian aromas. Docs’ breath. Dentists’ gloves. It was straight up nasty.
I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Japan has been chosen to be the site of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. And (13 years later) the smoking situation has not decreased/improved very much. In all honesty, it’s not nearly as pervasive as it has been. But it damned sure hasn’t dropped to a level most civilized humans would deem “healthy”.
Along with its predecessor, Rio, Tokyo has been asked by the International Olympic Committee for the city to ban smoking in *all public places*. This, as the Committee has told past Olympic hosts, is to foster a more healthful environment–both in general, and for the Games, specifically. This has not gone without its own chorus of Asiatic teeth sucking, in protest.
Prior to this IOC request, Japan had been trying to legislate a much harsher restriction on smoking, nationwide. So, as you can imagine–along with pleated jeans, mini-disc players, and faxing as a primary means of official communication–the 90s are rearing their ugly head J-side [when it comes to public health issues and smoking]. And the same ol’ same ol’ is playing out with regards to lobbyists, big biz, and personal freedom proponents.
We’re not talking about money, obviously. We’re talking about a SHIT LOAD of money. Nearly 800 million USD (add two decimal points, basically, for the Yen equivalent) in 2015 by Japan Tobacco alone. JT is partially J-gov owned, so a nice chunk of its revenue siphons off to government coffers. And an additional 25 billion (with a ‘b’) USD in tobacco taxes in the same year.
Even as a lot of Japanese folks are bitching about it, I’d like to clarify that the Japanese people–by and large–rank at the top of this writer’s list, when it comes to hospitality and consideration. So, I am certainly not at all pointing any fingers at them. (Despite the fact that I still cannot fathom why smoking is so widespread with them.)
If Japan pulls out all the stops, and makes Tokyo — the largest metropolitan sprawl in the Local Group [that we know of] — restrict smoking to the level that IOC is asking, vendors, bars, clubs, and restaurants in the Tokyo Metro could be fined anywhere between 3k and 5k *per smoker* if someone lit up in their place. Additional fines are also in place for lack of proper square footage (which you can bet your sweet ass is a premium in Big T) or ventilation.
The Diet — Japanese Parliament — ends its current session in a month. So far, there hasn’t been much talk about these issues… much less on any actual legislation. Japan ranks dead last on whatever list tracks anti-smoking regs. In the height of the Japanese economic and hair/bangs boom, approximately (no one actually counted) 50% of the Japanese adult population smoked. Now it’s lingering at ~20%.
The World Health Organization has stepped in behind the International Olympic Committee to try to strong-arm/guilt host nations into being healthy. But neither of those orgs can enforce anyone to do or not do anything beyond the Olympic Village.
This is one of those things that’s really going to give people outside Japan a pretty showy view of Japan’s ura. And how the J-gov and its people respond [and maybe adjust] is going to belie Japan’s ability to do what it wants in its own home, while not giving a shit about who objects. The rhetoric is already dominantly Japano-centric, with regards to how the international community is addressing the Japanese and the issue, all the while making demands on how the whole nation should do things if they want to do sports with all the cool kids.
Featured image courtesy of Japan Daily Press.
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