Where can one smoke in Japan? The smoking customs in Japan.
The number of smokers in Japan has been decreasing over the years.
In 2018 the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare conducted a survey about the health and nutrition of people. Of the 3,268 households surveyed, 29% of men and 8.1% of women said they were smokers.
In April of 2020 the Health Promotion Act was updated to prohibit smoking in places like government agencies, hospitals, some bars, some restaurants, hotel lobbies, offices, and other indoor areas. The price of cigarettes has also increased in recent years; cigarettes are now six times as expensive as they were in 1961.
The latest change to the Health Promotion Act means that a company or business must get a permit if they want to have an indoor smoking area. Only small businesses and bars will still be able to allow smoking indoors.
I will introduce where one can smoke and the etiquette for smoking in Japan. Some things may be similar or the same as other countries. Let’s learn about the smoking etiquette in Japan.
Department stores and shopping malls
Outside and on streets
Public transports and taxis
1. At offices
People are allowed to smoke in office buildings if there is a separate dedicated smoking room.
When people visit a client’s office for a meeting they usually can’t smoke so they have to make sure to smoke before or after the meeting.
If you need to stay at an office longer than expected and feel the need to smoke,
please ask if there is a place to smoke by saying “kitsuenjo wo kariremasuka? (喫煙所を借りれますか？)”. It means “May I use your smoking area?”, usually they will guide you to where it is.
In some cases, companies may prohibit smoking inside the building or they may only hire non-smokers. Please check the requirements concerning smokers if you are a smoker and are applying for a job somewhere.
2. At restaurants
From April of 2020, smoking will no longer be indoors at most restaurants and public places. Some small businesses and bars, however, will be exempt from this.
If smoking is allowed somewhere, please adhere to the following rules on etiquette.
Use a cigarette case to store used cigarettes.
Stand or sit by a window that opens.
Be aware of your surroundings, if there are elderly people or children around please refrain from smoking near them.
Having a meeting over lunch with a client can strengthen the connection you have with them; however, not all companies allow lunch meetings because it could make negotiations inappropriate. If a client asks you to have a lunch meeting, you should expect that it will take place in a non-smoking environment.
If you are planning to have a lunch meeting with a client, please check to see if the client is a smoker or not. Similarly, when setting up a drinking party, please check if there are any smokers who will be attending.
When making a reservation for a lunch meeting please specify whether you want to be seated in the “Kitsuen (喫煙 smoking) section” or the “Kinen (禁煙 non-smoking) section”.
The two words sound similar and are easy to mishear so it's a good idea to ask the restaurant to repeat back the details of the reservation to you before finalizing it.
3. At department stores and shopping malls
Designated smoking rooms are usually set up near bathrooms in malls and department stores. They are easy to locate on a floor map of the store or mall. Please check this if you feel the need to smoke while at these kinds of places.
4. Outside and on streets
In some cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Fukuoka there are several wards where smoking on the sidewalk or street is prohibited. Please make sure to check the rules for smoking in public places in the area where you live.
At most parks and near most buildings there is usually a specific area where smoking is allowed called a “Kitsuen space (喫煙スペース)”.
5. On public transportation/in taxis
Smoking is generally not allowed at train stations, bus stops, and inside buildings. Usually smoking is only allowed in designated smoking areas or rooms at these places.
Taxi drivers are not allowed to smoke while driving a passenger. For customers, it usually depends on what taxi they are using. These days, however, I haven’t seen many taxis where smoking is still allowed. If you feel the need to smoke please first check with the driver if its ok to smoke.
Smoking is prohibited at hospitals, schools, and other public facilities. Please refrain from smoking at these places; if there are designated smoking areas, please use those.
6. Background Information; The history of the non-smoking trend in Japan.
In the past, people in Japan smoked a lot more than nowadays. Smoking was allowed almost everywhere including places such as office buildings, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and train stations. When I was a student, I sometimes saw that our teachers smoked inside a room where was not used for a class.
After the 90's, smoking trends slowly changed in part, due to the privatization of the national railway group “Kokutesu (国鉄)”. The group became a private corporate entity “Japan Railway Group” JR for short. They began to make their train stations and train cars into non-smoking areas which started a trend and more places began to create non-smoking areas. By 2014 almost all cities in Japan have prohibited smoking at train stations and in train cars.
In offices, smoking used to be a way that coworkers could socialize with each other or with their bosses. People who didn’t smoke often complained about how much their coworkers who did smoke would leave their desk and take smoke breaks. Smoking offered an opportunity for workers to ingratiate themselves with their bosses. Some people started smoking in order to make more business connections.
Smoking is unhealthy but was a social activity used to take breaks and make connections.
Smoking was allowed during meals at restaurants and people even fell asleep while smoking, a phenomenon called “Netabako (寝たばこ)”, which often caused fires. These days, smoking is sometimes prohibited inside apartments. Some rental agreements even state that a tenant is not allowed to smoke inside the apartment. If you are a smoker, please make sure to check the details of your rental agreement before signing.
How were today’s tips? Did you learn something new?
I wonder if there are any unique customs surrounding smoking in other countries. Please let me know any idea from inquiry form!
See you in next time!