Posts Tagged ‘smoking’

Ippuku: Tokyo’s new pay-as-you-go smoking space

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

An Ippuku pay smoking space in Tokyo's Ochanomizu

An Ippuku pay smoking space in Ochanomizu. (Rebecca Milner photos)

Tokyo has taken the opposite tack from many Western cities when it comes to curbing tobacco use in public space: smoking is banned on the streets but not inside bars and restaurants. Well, almost banned — special smoking areas, usually in front of train stations, corral smokers into tight quarters around a few communal ashtrays (and inside a haze of smoke). These smoking zones are so unpleasant, they’ve been nicknamed “gas chambers.”

Hikarie smoking space

Hikarie’s clubby smoking space.

Recently, however, we’ve seen a smattering of more attractive smoking spaces — and not just ones created by tobacco companies. The new Hikarie building in Shibuya has what could be called a deluxe smoking lounge. There are benches to sit on, outlets to charge your phone, and, in the smoking space on the 11th floor, moody lighting. Most impressive however is the degree of ventilation — the air isn’t deplorably smoky.

All of this conspires to position smoking not as a fact-of-life or a dirty habit, but rather as a quality of life issue — smoking should ultimately be a pleasant experience. It’s the same logic that results in Japan having some of the nicest public restrooms in the world, with heated toilet seats and rows of mirrors (complete with hooks for hanging handbags and a ledge for holding make-up pouches and hairbrushes).

Starting this summer, a new venture is betting that, where such deluxe quarters do not yet exist for free, smokers would be willing to pay a small premium for that pleasant experience. Ippuku, which means “a puff,” is a pay-as-you-go smoking area. It features much of the same amenities as the space in Hikarie: padded rails to sit on, tables to prop up a drink, outlets for phone charging, and continuously circulating air.

Continue reading about smoking lounges for paying customers →

Can mah-jongg and pachinko parlors clean up their acts?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Healthy Mah-jongg is getting more popular with young players who've discovered the game online

When we think of mah-jongg we generally conjure up images of middle-aged guys playing in dingy rooms, filled with thick blue smoke. So we definitely took note when we heard of  Kien Mah-Jongg Story, a new parlor that is offering a refreshingly smoke-free environment to its customers.

“Fewer people smoke and there’s a lot of people who hate smoking,” said company president Akira Aiba in a recent interview with Shibuya Keizai Shimbun. The atmosphere at Kien (no-smoking) Mah-jongg Story is “low key and chic” and designed to attract a younger, more fashionable, crowd in their 20s and 30s. Though the mahjong world of the past was predominantly male, Internet mahjong sites have turned on a new generation of younger female players.

The trend isn’t limited to the younger generation. According to a recent article in the Telegraph, Japan’s elderly generation are also opting to play the game in a healthier environment. Kenkou (healthy) Mah-jongg parlors (many of which are owned by Galapagos), where drinking, gambling and smoking are forbidden, have opened all over the country and are attracting a mainly female, elderly clientele.

Pachinko, another gaming industry that’s traditionally associated with chain smokers, appears to be taking steps — baby steps — toward cleaning up its act. You can be forgiven for thinking that pachinko parlors require their patrons to smoke, but there are actually a few places of refuge for non-smokers and their numbers are growing. Furthermore, there’s been talk in the Diet of extending the public smoking ban to places such as pachinko parlors, though you can bet that the owners and the tobacco industry will put up a fight.

What do you think? Should the smokers be kicked off the premises?

Japan by the numbers (07.23.10)

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Japan by the numbers (06.04.10)

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Snuff hits the streets of Tokyo

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Zerostyle mint delivers a nicotine hit without smoke

Zerostyle Mint delivers a nicotine hit without smoke

Snuff, the refined vice of Victorian-era English gentlemen, might be making a comeback in Japan. Next month will see the launch of Zerostyle Mint, what Japan Tobacco calls “a new style snuff tobacco product.”

Why the revival? Well, while it’s still OK to light up in many restaurants and bars, except for designated areas, smoking has been banned from city streets and this month it looks like the health ministry will be finalizing a report recommending smoking bans in the workplace.

Back in January we reported steps Japan Tobacco (JT) were taking to provide smoking refuges for nicotine addicted Japanese, but faced by an ever-dwindling number of smoking spaces, it’s conceivable that smokers might have to turn to Zerostyle Mint in situations when they need a nicotine hit and can’t find anywhere close by to light up.

While JT calls it snuff, the Zerostyle Mint isn’t for sticking up your nose. It’s a device that looks like a stubby black whistle, with a mouthpiece that you are meant to suck on rather than blow through and refillable cartridges that will last from half a day to a whole day, depending on the smoker’s level of dependency. While perhaps not as alluring as the usual smoker’s paraphernalia, refills will be individually wrapped and kept in a pouch.

Zerostyle Mint’s selling point is, of course, that it’s completely smokeless, which will be an added bonus for Japan Tobacco, who often has to thrown in free lighters along with packs of cigarettes to boost sales. But one wonders if JT are really gunning for this product. Seriously. We know “zero” is popular among products for calorie-watchers, but what marketing genius came up with the name Zerostyle?

Sales of Zerostyle Mint will initially be confined to Tokyo only as JT tests the product’s appeal. Similarly, last month JT limited sales of another experimental product to Tokyo. Camel Menthol Mini are stubby little cigarettes and might appeal to people who want an extremely quick ciggie – perhaps suiting the needs of crafty smokers who are trying to outwit the metro patrols, dishing out fines to public smoking offenders.

Smokers escape the gas chamber

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

A crowded smoking area outside Shibuya Station (Masahiro Hayata photo)

A crowded smoking area outside Shibuya Station (Masahiro Hayata photo)

Anyone who has seen the smoking rooms in many of Tokyo’s main stations will know that things aren’t looking up for Japan’s puffing population. These Plexiglass rooms are so noxious that they’ve been nicknamed “the gas chambers” by commuters. Naturally, smokers can’t be choosy these days. Hounded off the streets in most wards and banned from lighting up on train platforms, tobacco imbibers are only allowed to light up in specially designated areas.

Fortunately for them, JT (Japan Tobacco) is very keen to keep Japan’s smoking population at profitable levels. For the past few years the company has been pleading with smokers to practice good manners and follow the “smokers’ style.” And if you’re in any doubt as how to be a good smoker, the company’s Web site is full of useful tips, smoking games, smoking history and suggestions on where to have a pleasant smoke.

In addition to outside smoking areas, the company has gone to the trouble of establishing “Smoking Lounges,” café-style spaces where smokers can puff away without having to shell out for a coffee. JT’s first “Smoking Lounge” opened at Narita airport in January 2006 but more have been popping up around Tokyo since. Naturally, there’s a catch to these “free” spaces. If you visit JT’s smoking lounge in Roppongi, for example, you’ll be given a sales pitch for Kent cigarettes (most likely by a young woman), asked to fill out a questionnaire and given  a free sample of Kent to try (one cigarette per person). Each smoking space appears to be promoting a different JT brand. JT also has the retro-looking SmoCar – a mobile smoker’s space that shows up at events nationwide and promotes smoking manners.

While an increasing number of cafes and restaurants are now closing their doors to smokers,  Cafe Tobacco, which opened its first store in Shimbashi last year, is catering exclusively to ciggie lovers (and offering exceptionally bitter coffee blends to boot). More smoker-friendly spots can be found in JT’s gourmet section, which  concentrates on a different metro area each month. The guide also includes outdoor spots where a peaceful smoking experience can be enjoyed. This month the guide is spotlighting my home town of Nakano and JT recommends that smokers head for Momijiyama Park, which has a lovely balcony overlooking a quiet pond surrounded by flaming red momiji trees. I can testify: It’s a prime location for a breather, and a far cry from Japan Railway’s gas chambers.

Photo credit: Mashiro Hayata/Flickr

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