Wednesday, April 25, 2007


No Wide Smoke

In the 80s, it was taken for granted that anyone busted on a plane trying to smoke in the bathroom would invariably be Japanese. Despite their overall healthy lifestyle, the anti-smoking movement didn't seem to be catching on in Japan, and I honestly wondered if it ever would. But times have changed since I was a kid in the 70s and grew ill riding the shinkansen filled with an eerie blue vapor.

Last year, for example, it finally dawned on people that
Japanese vending machines,
while incredibly handy (benri), don't police themselves. It's incredibly easy for a child to go and purchase a can of beer or a pack of cigarettes. And thus, with inimitable ingenuity, the vending machine ID card was born.

At the same time, measures have gone into place to police smoking. Now, I'm really used to the "Second Hand Smoking Kills" ads in the States. But I wonder how the following would go over among Americans.

Here, for example, is a designated smoking booth in Hachinohe, the terminus of the Tohoku shinkansen line which, I was stunned to learn, is completely smoke free. We found this out when we asked for tickets to the "non-smoking" car and were informed that all cars were non-smoking. Who knew? The Tokaido line still has a couple of cars reserved for smokers, but people seem to feel that it's only a matter of time before these are eliminated as well. When that happens, people will have to hold their carcinogenic breaths until they stumble onto a platform, as the folks in this photo have done, and rush into a rather tightly sealed booth to get their fix.

The town of Sendai has a designated "smoke free" and "model" boulevard. In exchange for the cooperation of its citizens, Sendai has set up little "designated smoking areas." I can't imagine this ever happening in the US, though since I don't like cigarette smoke, I wouldn't mind if it happened. But could you imagine Americans ever agreeing not to smoke on 5th Avenue?

Well, apparently, not all Japanese follow the rules either, despite the whole "hive mentality" stereotype that we are used to seeing. Here's a guy puffing away. He wasn't too happy when I took his photo.

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