Green Lifestyle A different type of smoke, sacred smoke, in Japan

Published on November 20th, 2012 | by Sara Stroman

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I am Thankful for Smoke-Free Spaces in New York City

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I have a bone to pick with Japan…the indoor smoking is out-of-control.

A different type of smoke, sacred smoke, in Japan

A different type of smoke, sacred smoke, in Japan

I know. I know. Who am I to tell an entire country to stop smoking in public spaces?

I don’t mean to be that person. I also don’t want to offend anyone. After all, I grew up in a home where my parents smoked and smoked a lot. We grew up inhaling smoke in cars and it sucked. Not only is smoking bad but, smoking is air pollution for everyone who breathes it in.

I spent many hours showing my Dad posters about why smoking was bad. It didn’t matter though, he kept smoking until his death and I was angry with him even though I knew he wanted to do it and people do the things they want to do.  Which is why I say now, I don’t care if you smoke, I just don’t want to smell it.

It is also why having lived in New York City where they banned cigarette smoking in public places such as parks, beaches, restaurants, bars, and anywhere else people used to light up, I enjoy smoke-free environments a lot.

It also means that I have forgotten that not every country or city in the world (heck even some states in the US!) haven’t banned smoking.

When I first left the US, I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, where everyone smokes. At least it feels like everyone smokes. Smoke was everywhere and it annoyed me, but I spent most of my time outside so it wasn’t like smoke was being blown directly in my face.

But then, I got to Japan. In Tokyo, we went out one night and as soon as we walked into the bar I was hit with smoke. That night before I went to bed, I remembered why I hate cigarette smoke so much – my curly hair had soaked in the smoke, my clothes reeked, and overall I smelled like an ashtray.  Blech!

Now, I am in a different part of Japan, on the western coast to be exact and I find the smoke even more unbearable. The difference here is that the smoke is directly in my face.

I am studying at a Museum where two of the men I am around daily smoke cigarettes many times throughout the day in the office.  I find it funny that the Prefecture I am in boasts about having “the second longest life expectancy in Japan” for both men and women. Maybe their cigarettes aren’t as lethal as the kind smoked in the US? I don’t know!

With every cigarette I am transported back to my eight-year-old self-sitting at the kitchen table with my Dad smoking, or sitting in the car inhaling smoke.

When I was younger, I am sad to admit this, but the first five seconds of a cigarette after it is lit was my favorite smell.  Gasoline was my second favorite smell. I sound so opposite of an environmentalist admitting that. As I grew older, I started to hate the smells of both and now because I am rarely around either, when I do smell them, I want to run away as quickly as possible.

So where does this leave me now? Well, I am leaving the museum next Friday, so hopefully I can spend the next half of my stay in Japan breathing in less smoke and more quality air to clean out my lungs.

More importantly, as we approach Thanksgiving and are supposed to think about all in our lives that we are grateful for, I share my thankfulness for smoke free spaces in New York City. I will never take it for granted again that I can walk through the pedestrian walk of Times Square, or go to a bar without smelling cigarette smoke. Small thanks, but it means so much.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

{Smoking image via Gustty on Flickr}



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  • ml johnstone

    i am thankful for smoke free environments too BUT….cars smoke too and they make alot of NOISE 24/7 and they even get to do this a few feet away from babies, toddlers,children,everyone

  • saras

    Good point, ml johnstone! Being out here in Japan, I’ve been in very few cars…since the village I live in is so small, I can walk or bike to most places. Now, I’ll definitely be aware of cars and noises/pollution from them.

    Oh, I have a brother studying mechanical engineering…I’ll pass this along to him and see if he can ponder ways to fix this.

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