Over the past year and a half I feel like I have been watching my own life as though I was watching a television show. I have photographed most of the memorable moments, I have written out many of my thoughts and reflections, I have constantly analyzed what I have seen. I have had more moments where I have commented, both publicly and in my own private head space, about what I like and don’t like about Japan/America in the last year or so than at any other time in my life.
I feel like this experience, living in Japan for an extended amount of time, has really given me a chance to be critical of and think about all of those things that I often took for granted.
Now that our time is starting to wrap up, I feel like I am even more sensitive to these thoughts. Each time I notice something that I really like, I have this nostalgic feeling of how I am going to miss that when we move back. On the flip side, each time I have an experience with something that I don’t like, I am so eager to remind myself that soon, in just six months or so, I will be rid of it. I won’t have to deal anymore.
Well, lately, one of the things that has been driving me nuts is public smoking. (I am probably way more sensitive to this because of the fact that I am pregnant.) I realize how much I took for granted, and LOVED, the smoking ban in Chicago. I loved that I could go out for an evening on the town and not come home smelling like an ashtray and having to launder every piece of clothing that I wore out. Not to mention, sometimes having to take a shower myself before hopping into bed.
Even before the smoking ban, I loved that there were true non-smoking sections. Places that were actually physically separated so that the air barely mixed. I was able to enjoy my meal without the smell of cigarettes wafting into my nose and affecting the flavor.
Here it is the opposite. Few restaurants have non-smoking sections, and when they do it is rare that there is a true separation. Sometimes it is as though half of the restaurant is dedicated to smoking, the other half non, and the tables butt right up against one another. Bars have no restrictions whatsoever.
Yesterday, we went out for a simple lunch on our weekly Saturday walk (a long walk through the neighborhood with stops for lunch and groceries) and it drove me absolutely crazy that I was sitting there, trying to enjoy my lunch while a gentleman just two seats away was puffing away like a chimney. It doesn’t bother me that he chooses to smoke, it is his choice. But it bothers me that he was able to negatively impact my experience.
It is true, Japan is starting to come around. But I find it very interesting that the first steps, at least in our area, tend to be focusing on open-air spaces. For example, starting in March smoking will be banned on all train platforms. Unlike in Nagoya, where some of the platforms are underground, here in the Gifu area they are all above ground. So, essentially, the smokers are smoking outside. That doesn’t so much bother me. I can move to another area and avoid the smell. Inside a contained space, restaurant or bar, that isn’t the case.
Also, smoking is no longer allowed in certain areas of Yanagase, an open-air mall in downtown Gifu. Again, it is open-air, the air circulates, so I don’t really understand the reason behind the ban. It doesn’t seem like it could be public health related, it might be more about cleanliness and the fact that people and businesses don’t like the butts that are often scattered on the ground in these spaces.
I am glad that progress seems to be being made here, but I wish they would focus first on spaces where the smoke is unavoidable for non-smoking people, and move from there. I think it will take a long time to change the situation here, but I do get the sense that it will, eventually. For now, I will just be glad that in about six months, I will be able to go out to any bar or restaurant back home and enjoy a beer or two, or an extraordinarily large hamburger, without someone smoking right next to me.