Growing up in the 80s I clearly remember the options my parents got when we entered some sort of eatery. “Smoking or non-smoking”, they were asked. Smokers were generally placed in their own little room well away from me and my chips, or whatever I happened to be eating at the time.
Since the smoking ban in the UK, I guess such experiences are a thing of the past. I left England for pastures new before it was enforced but I remember discussing with my friends how it would be nice not to have to worry about all our clothes smelling of smoke when we returned from a night out. I guess we thought only having to worry about them smelling of booze instead would be miles better.
Whatever the results of the British smoking ban, eating or going out in Japan is like stepping into the twilight zone where everything is reversed. Smoking outside, where the smoke has limitless space to dissipate to, is frowned upon. Instead people smoke in special areas which, due to their placement near train stations, leads to a concentration of heavy smoke at station exits. You know, the kind of place where people usually wait for their friends.
As far as public places go, inside is where a Japanese smoker is expected to light up. As a result the question “Smoking or non-smoking” is still often said when you enter a restaurant, or at least it would be if people spoke English here. However it is different to my, probably rose-tinted, memories of the past. There are indeed smoking and non smoking sections but they are usually separated by nothing more than a screen. Sometimes it’s a screen which doesn’t even stretch along the length of a room. It’s as though people haven’t realised that smoke can go round corners.
As a result of all this, smoke often comes between my chips and my stomach. I get rather frustrated when I decide to go to Dotour coffee shop for my lunch break only to return to the office smelling of smoke. It’s not my favourite of smells.
Most of the time people smoking don’t bother me too much. I can deal with it and although I don’t understand the need to smoke, it isn’t the end of the world if someone on the same table as me sparks up. Recently though I was in a pub and the fellows on the table next to me were puffing away and I felt almost nauseous. They must have been smoking some kind of high tar concoction or something and I was just about to move tables when they thankfully got up and left. I guess that in my old age this kind of thing will have more and more of an effect on me.