Smoking in Japan

Japanese people and cigarettes

Many travelers in Japan notice it: Japanese people are surprisingly numerous to smoke tobacco. What seems to be only an appearance is actually real, but recently being challenged. From exclusively statistical numbers, the latest study of the serious organization "Japan Tobacco" showed drastic decreases of the number of smokers: from 36,5% in 1995 (and up to 83% of all Japanese men in 1966!), they were not more than 21,7% adults (and 10% of all women) in 2011, and then 17,7% in 2018 (29,4% of men and 7,2% of women).

Obviously, the impressive increase in 2010 of more than 30% of a cigarette pack’s price definitely helped this change (with also 65% of taxes, adding 200 billion Yens / ~US$ 1,752,157,343.70 each year in the State’s coffers). And yet, the following year, there were not less than 23 millions Japanese people still addicted to cigarettes. The report did not even include underaged smokers (less than 20 years old).

While tobacco smoking remains prohibited in workplaces or streets, many other public spaces in Japan do authorize it, surprising a lot of Western travelers: restaurants, bars, night clubs, karaokes, pachinkos, arcade games, hotels and even some train cars. Elsewhere, the smoker will look for 喫煙所 kitsuensho "smoking areas" reserved for his addiction, sometimes looking like big glass boxes with ashtrays and powerful smoke extractors. At least, streets in Japan almost do not let appear a single cigarette butt!

In 2017, new legislation is under debate and applied in its watered-down version:

  • smoking ban in schools and hospitals, despite some possible circumvention;
  • no smoking in restaurants bigger than 100 square meters.

At the end of June 2018, Tokyo passed its own and tougher anti-smoke law, to be applied to the metropolis in April 2020, ahead of Tokyo Summer Olympic Games:

  • no smoking in all schools (from kindergarten to high school);
  • smoking ban in all restaurants (there will be some airtight "smoking areas" but in which it will not be allowed to drink nor eat);
  • fines for those not respecting the law will be up to ¥50,000 (~US$ 438.00).

Costs and types

In Japan, a 20 cigarette pack costs about ¥400 to ¥500 (~US$ 3.50 to ~US$ 4.40). A simple text message on boxes reminds the smokers about tobacco health hazards. It is possible to buy it:

  • in konbinis (you may be asked your ID card, or to validate your age on a touch screen);
  • in tobacco stores (where you can also find the rare electronic cigarettes used by vapers, which have similar constraints);
  • at vending machines (a Taspo card is first necessary to purchase cigarettes from these).

We will not recommend to smoke outside reserved areas, as municipal agents do not hesitate anymore to go from a simple warning to a fine: count usually between ¥2,000 to ¥5,000 (~US$ 17.50 to ~US$ 43.80).

The two most famous Japanese brands of cigarettes are probably Mevius (former named Mild Seven) and Seven Stars. However, we can also easily find American brands (slightly more expensive) like Marlboro, American Spirit, Kool or Black Devil. Note that if Japanese people have access to a wide range of flavors, menthol remains one of the bestsellers.

Foreigners can usually bring back home up to two cartons of cigarettes without import taxes at the airport.

Cannabis / smoking hash

Consuming, trafficking and possessing cannabis is strictly prohibited and punished in Japan. On the archipelago, custody can last up to 20 days. Even for very small quantities, it is not surprising that judgments end up with heavy fines attached with several months or years of imprisonment, as well as sometimes a permanent stay ban from the territory.

We do strongly discourage transporting and consuming recreational drugs in Japan. In the same way, it is advised not to consume rolling tobacco as authorities are not used to see it, so can be confused with it.

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タバコを吸います (tabako wo suimasu): smoking a cigarette

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