Smoking is still a popular pastime for many Japanese, although in recent years, the habit has fallen considerably. Cigarettes can be purchased extremely easily and cheaply, in fact there is an abundant supply of vending machines selling the product, it is estimated there are almost 600,000 cigarette vending machines on Japanese streets. People under 20 are prohibited from smoking, and the machines do not pose too much temptation for most.
Tobacco is an important part of Japanese culture, there is even a Tobacco Festival which is held in Hadano-shi, Kanagawa which even crowns a Miss Tobacco. There is also a museum in the Tokyo suburb of Shibuya know as The Tobacco and Salt Museum.
Smoking is starting to become frowned upon in public places, only a few years back the air was thick with cigarette smoke and smell, but now attitudes have changed, although advertising in all forms of media is rife. Recently many public places like railway stations, airports, parks and cultural places have banned smoking in their main areas, but many have smoking rooms or areas set aside if you want a smoke. Many cafes, restaurants and bars are following suit, with quite a few becoming smoke free or having a smoking area off to the side.
Throwing your butt onto the street is also becoming a big no no, with many areas fining people 20,000 to 100,000 yen for littering with cigarettes, and quite a few precincts banning smoking all together. Uniformed patrols are already on the streets to remind people of the new rules.
Due to the new restrictions, smoking rooms are becoming quite popular. These rooms can be found in many areas, they are a bit like a bar, but the only thing going on is smoking. Inside the room there is generally a large air extraction unit that doubles as a bench you can lean against while you smoke. They are usually fuelled with people having a puff, The air alone has enough smoke in it for you not to even need to light up. Another establishment with a permanent cloud of smoke is the pachinko parlour gambling halls. These venues have chosen to ignore the new anti smoking rules to suit their clients.
If you are a smoker, you may be pleasantly surprised by the cost of a packet of smokes. There is plenty of competition in the market thanks to the abundance of vending machines and tiny tobacconists whose shop sometime take up no more room than a broom closet. Also, the cigarettes don’t have the heavy taxes on them like other countries.
Also, note many cigarette vending machines have recently introduced an id card system to purchase cigarettes in order to cut down on under age smoking. If you wanted to use such machines, you would need to apply for a card first, so you are probably better off going to one of the many tobacconist or convenience stores instead.