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.”
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.