Smoking in Japan: Is a Better Future Finally Here?

A new law concerning smoking inside will now shake Japan’s core.

Japan is one of the latest developed countries in the world to ban smoking inside. As of April 1st, smoking inside has now become forbidden. Until now? It was a whole other story.

Let’s rewind a bit.

Back in 1966, 83.7% of men in Japan smoked. In 2017, it was “only” 28%. The percentage has gone down but it is still a long way from the 13.8% found that same year in Australia.

But what is interesting is how the Japanese government worked towards reducing smoking.

In most other countries, the pattern has been to ban smoking inside first. Then, to increase the price of packs of cigarettes. Japan, instead, decided to ban smoking outside… in one specific situation: when walking.


The term 歩きたばこ (Cigarette while walking) is known by everybody in Japan. That was the focus for years. A few years back, you could smoke standing in a corner legally only to break the law the moment you would take a step. Talk about a strange law!

Little by little, areas across large cities started prohibiting smoking outside. They created designed smoking spaces instead. The idea was a good one… if you forget the fact that you could still smoke in closed spaces!

Bars, restaurants, or coffee shops, were still accepting smokers without setting limitations. The risk of second-hand smoking for non-smokers was thus increased.

In countries like France, you can find terraces where smoking is allowed. Smoking inside, however, was banned in 2008 to avoid non-smokers the pain of sharing such spaces.

As a smoker myself, I have to admit the Japanese rules have been rather convenient so far. Drinking coffee and smoking while typing away on my computer in a coffee shop has become a habit for the past year.

Yet, it’s impossible to deny the flaws of such a law. Smoking inside should have been banned years ago.

Why hadn’t it then?

The answer is quite simple. After-work drinks with one’s boss in a dimly-lit izakaya (Japanese pub) while chain-smoking is deeply rooted in the Japanese work culture. Anybody living here has done it. Anybody who has watched a Japanese film has seen it.

Photo by Parker Ulry on Unsplash

Prohibiting smoking inside would impact this culture. This, in turn, would have a negative impact on such establishments. Who knows? This obligatory after-work drinking culture might disappear even. I’d doubt so though.

A new law

As mentioned above, it is now prohibited to smoke inside. This new law accepts certain establishments to have a smoking area inside. However, it is forbidden to bring food or drinks to it.

With this new law, it has suddenly become extremely hard to smoke in Japan. You cannot smoke outdoors nor indoors. Only designated smoking areas are still allowed.

As a result, this law should have a strong impact on the number of smokers and the economy. It’ll change the lives of many, myself included. It’ll finally become inconvenient to be a smoker in Japan. It might thus reduce the percentage of smokers by a large margin.

This law will shake how most establishments work.


Yes, for smaller facilities valued at less than 50 million yen (about $460,000), it can still be allowed if a sign states it outside. After all, the risk that most small izakaya in the countryside would close would be too big otherwise.

It’s a late decision, but one that Japan needed to take. The truth is: I hate how much I love this new law.

French polyglot speaking 6 languages. Writer. Helping you learn languages. Get my new ebook →

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