No one can say that smoking is healthy – that’s for sure. But an adult choice is just that, much like drinking whiskey or playing the lotto. For those smokers in Japan, here is a quick guide to cigarettes.
Some people would say that Japan is a smoker’s paradise. Cigarettes are fairly cheap, smoking areas abound even in airports, and people do not generally look at you with shock and disgust if you mention you have a puff every now and then. Smoking in Japan is normal, not a diagnosis of the plague or (in many cases) a huge turnoff to others.
That being said, there are rules that should be followed.
One of the most surprising things about smoking in Japan compared to other countries is the lack of package and sales regulations. There are no grotesque pictures to freak you out, just a few words in Japanese at the bottom, which usually blend in with the overall design.
The last time I went abroad, to Canada, buying cigarettes made me feel slightly like a criminal. I had to choose cigarettes from a binder of brands (displays are not allowed) and was presented with a package that was covered by health warnings and disturbing photos. Then, they were put in a paper bag so I could take my shame out the door without anyone seeing.
Here are some basic facts and manners about smoking to help you navigate the Japanese world of nicotine.
Domestic brands – Mevius (previously the famous Mild Seven), Seven Stars, etc. start at 440 yen for a pack of 20. There are also half packs, and a crazy amount of flavors, from standard menthol, to blueberry mint. Usually, you can snag some free swag with your smokes too, like a can of coffee or a lighter, especially if you buy them at a convenience store.
Imported brands – Marlboro, Kool, Black Devil, etc. go for 460 and up, depending on the brand. You pay more for premium brands, like Davidoff. The major player in Japan would be Marlboro, which I am incredibly partial to. Their ice blast cigarettes are my kryptonite. I am sure, if they stopped making these, I would quit, but until that time comes…
American spirit is also one of the more popular foreign brands, what with their promise of organic and additive free tobacco. I personally like the menthols, but because they are more firmly packed than Marlboro, they take more time to smoke. I can puff through an Ice Blast in about three minutes, compared to 12 minutes for an American Spirit.
You can buy cigarettes at pretty much every convenience store, most grocery and department stores, specialty tobacco shops, and, of course, vending machines. You may actually have to show ID (over 20 is a must). But, in convenience stores, you just have to push a button on the cash register screen verifying you are of age. If the shop does ask to verify your ID, they may require a Japanese ID as opposed to a foreign one. Show your residency card or equivalent and you should be fine.
For vending machines, you can sign up for the free national cigarette ID card (Taspo) and you are good to go.
Just pop the card into the machine slot, then put in your cash (coins or 1000 yen bills), select the brand of choice, grab your cigarettes and then remove your card. If you remove your card before final selection, the machine may eat your cash.
Many vending machines also accept drivers licenses (Japanese only) or have facial recognition cameras that work pretty well, unless you have a baby face. Maybe if you grow a moustache, you’ll be good to go!
Most downtown areas, large department stores, and even hospitals have designated smoking areas. Look for the sign with acigarette with smoke wafting above it. They are often equipped with air conditioning, air filter systems, and of course, vending machines. Most convenience stores have smoking areas outside near the front entrances.
Due to the abundance of OK to smoke areas, it isn’t wise to smoke randomly on the street or in non designated areas. You could find yourself being asked to leave, or in some cities get a fine ranging from 2000 to 5000 yen. Most people and police officers will ask you to put out your cigarette first, before issuing the fine. Still, it is best to err on the side of caution, and only smoke in designated smoking areas.
All public smoking areas have ashtrays. There are always a few public ones in downtown areas. You’ll find that most convenience stores and tabacco shops have ashtrays outside as well. The most polite thing, however, is to carry a pocket ashtray which you can get at any 100 yen shop. They are small, envelope or tube shaped, plastic or metal on the outside, foil on the inside, which exitnquish the cigarettete and trap the ash (and smell) inside. Just empty it out when you find a large ashtray. Most are fireproof from the inside, and can handle extinguishing a half lit cigarette and extinguish it to the point of safety.
So, there you have it. A few quick rules to help you navigate the smoking world of Japan.