One of the unwritten rules in Japan is that society will change at a slower rate than in Europe and the U.S., usually running 10-15 years or so behind. Whenever a major social policy shift or court decision occurs in the U.S. I tell my wife, “This will happen here in a decade or so, just watch,” and I’m usually right. When I first arrived in Japan in 1991, smoking was everywhere, and you literally couldn’t go 30 minutes without smelling someone’s smoke. Cigarettes were freely advertised on TV and in movie theaters, too — I remember one commercial that showed a Japanese man on a train smoking Caster cigarettes while French people sat around him smiling, the implication being “smoking this brand of cigarette will make you interesting to Europeans.” Happily for me (as a non-smoker) things have really changed, and smoking in most public places like trains and train stations is banned, or limited to specially designed smoking rooms with industrial strength air filters to clean the air. While the number of smokers in Japan is relatively high — around 32% for men and 10% for women — rates of lung cancer are actually low, which is a paradox that medical science is trying to understand. (Rates of stomach and esophageal cancers are higher for Japanese, though.)
Some thoughts on tobacco culture in Japanese society.