Smoke With Abandon, All Ye Who Enter Here

The Blue Windy Lounge is about as close to a smoker’s paradise as you can get: comfy seats, fine ventilation, vending machines stocked with your favorite smokes if you need a top-up, no cover charge and best of all, nobody glaring at you as though your presence were shortening their lives!

For years, Asia has been the last great frontier for Big Tobacco, but recently Tokyo has become more and more restrictive, declaring whole buildings, train stations, and neighborhoods off-limits for lighting up. Japan Tobacco began protecting its own by opening storefront smoking lounges in a number of neighborhoods, so smokers would have somewhere to go besides the pariah smoking pen in the alley out back.

It used to be that delinquent bamboo shoots could sneak a puff at designated spots on train platforms, but not anymore.

How weird is it that smoking is prohibited on the streets of Kabuki-cho, but you can light up as soon as you step through the door of any of the clubs and bars that line the streets?

What first looks like an anti-smoking campaign is actually an anti-rudeness campaign. Japan Tobacco has sponsored a number of efforts aimed at slowing restrictions on smoking, all pointing out to smokers how their careless habits annoy non-smokers and thus fuel demand for bans. This one is an especially popular theme: “A lighted cigarette is held at the same height as a child’s face when you walk down the street.”

Quite a few of the characters in Nightshade and Fallen Angel smoke, because although smoking is decreasing in Japan, it’s still pretty prevalent. I always ask people what age they started, and often the answers surprise me. In America, adult smokers usually got hooked at 13 or 14. In Japan, a lot of men started smoking after they were 18 and finished playing high school sports. Women often say they started smoking after beginning their careers – around age 21 or 22 – to relieve stress.

Jonelle Patrick is the author of the Only In Tokyo Mystery Series, published by Penguin/Intermix.

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