Smoking In Japan – An Useful Guide For Foreigners

For smokers planning to go to Japan in the near future, it is vital to update the country’s smoking rules and etiquette before your departure. Otherwise, you may face a steep fine or awkward staring look from the local if you break the rule.

Here’s all the location guide about smoking in Japan, that you need to know before your trip:

People do smoke in Japan

In fact, smoking used to be a big culture in this country during the 50s and 80s. There was a time when the rate of man smoking in Japan reached 80% (in 1966) and the government was even supportive of them.

Japanese smoke

20% of Japan population are smokers.

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However, the situation has shifted in the recent 15 years, when young people are aware, from an early age, that smoking carries some health risks. This leads to the fact that only 30% of men and 10% of women are smokers in Japan today. Among them, the youth tend to go for smokeless cigarettes or electronic cigarettes because it is cleaner, cheaper, and leaves no smell.

Well, basically, if you get the habit of smoking, don’t worry, Japan is quite a smoker friendly nation.

But consider where you smoke

Here comes the bad news. Smoking is prohibited in most outdoor and even indoor (from April 2020) public locations in Japan. You will be able to smoke only in designated smoking zones, which can be found in the park, malls, department stores, hospitals, some streets, and buildings. These places are usually quite noticeable due to a big sign with a cigarette picture or drawing. They can provide ashtrays, and the indoor ones have air filters or air conditioning.

Japan smoke

Designate smoking areas

There is also a ban on smoking in public transportation such as buses, trains, and of course airplanes. Though, you can book a seat in well-ventilated smoking cabins on many trains along the Osaka and Fukuoka, Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen between Tokyo.

What about restaurants, coffee shops, and bars?

japanese smoking

Smoking in restaurants

If you want to smoke while eating some delicious Japanese dishes, treating yourself some top quality local brews, or chilling with a cup of coffee or tea, it is pretty easy to find an establishment that provides designated indoor smoking areas.

smoking laws in japan

Smoking sign in font of restaurants and café

There are cigar bars, cafes, and restaurants fully for smokers, but they are extremely uncommon. These exempted establishments are obliged to put up signs at the front to indicate that they allow smoking. Well, the most convenient way to find them is through dining recommendation websites like Tripadvisor or tabelog. You simply search for smoking café/ restaurant or click on the smoking button (like in the picture below).

Japan smoke

Finding smoking café in Japan

And in Hotels?

Some hotels and other types of accommodation for rent in Japan such as shared houses or hostels contain both smoking and non-smoking rooms. The advice is to do research online first through hotel booking websites. Just make sure to tick the “smoking room” box in the filter to search for smoking rooms. Then, you may want to book in advance if you go in the travel season.

Age matters when it comes to buying cigarette

The law prohibits the purchase and smoking of cigarettes to persons under the age of twenty. Now, you are above that age, you still need something to prove that. How to prove depends on your purchase place, so let’s have a look at the two most popular ones:

Vending machines

You can also buy tobacco from numerous vending machines all over Japan. But you will need to take a further step to make that possible — by acquiring a driver’s license in Japan or a Taspo card.

Tobacco vending machine

Again, to end underage smoking, Japan’s government introduced a program named Taspo. The applicants have to come in for a detailed age verification procedure to make sure that only those who are 20 years old or older are free to buy cigarettes from vending machines.

A photo identification card will be issued once you have verified your age successfully. This card is Taspo, which you should tap onto the readers in the vending machines to buy cigarettes. Find out more about “Taspo” card application, by visiting the “Taspo” website.

Yet, you need to currently live in Japan to apply for a Taspo. Therefore, if you’re a short-term visitor, you should give up hope buying from a vending machine.

Watch the following video to find out how to buy cigarettes of different brands from a vending machine in Japan:

Convenience store and others

Besides vending machines, you can also purchase tobacco from tobacco stores and almost all convenience stores in Japan.

japan smoke

Buy cigarette in a convenience store

In a convenience store, every tobacco has a number. Generally, you will order at the check-out with the number. You can order with the brand name as well, but the number is better as the cashier may not be fluent in tobacco names.  Saying that in Japanese like this 「〜番ください。(–ban kudasai, Number—please.)」Sometimes, expect to be asked about your age, just show your passport and you will be fine.

Tobacco store

In Japan, there are tobacco specialty stores throughout cities and small towns. These stores are likely to sell rare varieties you won’t be able to find anywhere else. One plus point of these stores is the retro feature which makes them awesome for the photoshoot.

Buying cigarettes from a tobacco store (when you don’t have TASPO card)

 

Tax is high, so is price

Of course not as much as in Australia or Singapore but Japan tobacco taxes have experienced a continuous rise from the beginning of this century to 2018. Today, a pack of cigarettes with an average price of 450 yen, comprises at least 50% or more than 250 yen tax. Please note that the tax rate on heat-not-burn or electronic tobacco is three-time lower than traditional cigarettes. That is why they are usually cheaper.

Tobacco price

Regarding only the conventional cigarettes, the cost already varies vastly. Two of the most favored brands are Mevius and Seven Stars, which currently cost 490 yen ($5) per 20-cigarette carton. While “third-class” products such as Golden Bat, Echo, and Wakaba, price is between 330 ($3) and 360 ($3.41), the cigarette of choice for Kim Jong-Un, 7.27 costs almost $50 for a pack.

FAQs

1. Why is smoking popular in Japan?

Japanese smoking

For generations of Japanese, smoking has been a symbol of manhood and a method for concentration in work. Obviously, the government’s share in the prosperity of the tobacco industry had some impact on the fact that smoking used to be totally unregulated. Therefore, in many years, most spaces including homes, offices,  cafés, restaurants, trains, and theatres allowed smoking until recently. Because the country aimed to protect people from second-hand smoking especially during Tokyo Olympic, they have taken in place a law ban on indoor smoking.

2. Can you smoke on the streets in Japan?

Smoking ban on the street

No. Many cities ban smoking on the streets, especially in crowded districts except in designated smoking zones. If you cannot see any, you can look for a restaurant or cafe. You will often find private spaces, thus free to designate smoking rooms

3. Is smoking allowed in Japan?

Pay attention to the smoking or no-smoking sign

Yes and no. The government doesn’t ban smoking itself, but the place where you smoke is another matter. As we mentioned above, you definitely don’t want to smoke in public destinations both outdoor and indoor like streets or restaurants.

4. Can you drop cigarette butts in Japan?

Don’t litter the cigarette butt

It is not as strict as Singapore, but generally, it is considered impolite to dispose of cigarette butts unconsciously in Japan.  This is not really about smoking, but more about preserving Japan as one of the cleanest countries on earth. So, never throw your cigarette butt on the ground, find a trash bin to put them. Or carry a pocket side ashtray, and if there isn’t one, you can often purchase pocket ashtrays in 100 yen shops.

5. What is the penalty if you break the smoking law?

Smoking rules violation penalties

Japanese cities have various sets of smoking rules and regulations and according to penalties for offenders. In Tokyo, for instance, if you are caught smoking in non-smoking areas, your punishment will range from 2,000 yen to 5,000 yen. In Osaka, the government has separated smoking and non-smoking areas. If you smoke on sidewalks and other areas in the non-smoking zones, you will receive a fine of 1,000 yen. In Kyoto, punishment for those smoking on footpaths and streets is 1,000 yen. In Nagoya, the fine rate is 2,000 yen. In Sapporo, the regulation states that people must discard cigarette packs and butts properly to not imperil the pedestrians and the environment. If you violate the law, you will get a fine of 1,000 yen.

About Yuu Sato

Yuu Hiasa has been working in hospitality industry since 2003. In the past, he used to work as a tour guide and now he is running his business of supplying comfortable accommodations in Japan. Thanks to this experience and his passion for writing blog, the articles by him provides awesome tips and things to do when you are traveling in the country of cherry blossoms.