Japan, smoking and endless laundry

Endless laundry has quickly become the biggest bane of life on the road. No sooner have you drip dried seven pairs of boxer shorts, the time has once again come around to start praying that the next place you’re staying has proper washing facilities. It’s that or moving into the dangerous world of underwear recycling. And just 13 days in, it’s way too early for me to consider that.

But what’s made laundry particularly difficult here in Japan is smoking. Prior to fags being banned indoors in the UK, I never really regarded myself as a militant anti-smoker. But I’ve somehow become one of the crushing bores who coughs meekly every time someone nearby sparks up.

Here, it’s a real issue. Walking in the street, ciggy in hand, is banned in many parts of Tokyo and Kyoto. But duck into almost every bar or restaurant and there are at least two people smoking.

A smell which is now pretty much alien to me in indoor public spaces back home has come to dominate everything we do. At one restaurant in Hakone last week, a diner at the same table as us lit up while we ate, then proceeded to dock his tab when his food arrived, before lighting up the stub for a post-meal drag. Of course, I could have said something, but being British I went for the traditional passive aggressive approach and just moaned to Keeley instead.

Japan is seemingly in love with smoking. 40 per cent of the population are addicted and cigarettes are freely available for around £4 for twenty from street corner vending machines, half of the cost in the UK. Cigarette advertising, something that died out years ago in Britain, is still prevalant on Japanese billboards.

That such a healthy nation still allows smoking inside surprises me no end, especially as most European countries and many parts of the US took steps to outlaw it years ago. But more pressingly (and selfishly) right now, my clothes reek as if I have a 40-a-day habit. So if you’ll excuse me, I need to nip to the local laundromat and scrub my sorry clobber clean.

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