Connect with us

Economy & Tech

Cities Scramble to Make Smoking Rules Clearer as Tourism Booms

Cities are devising strategies to overcome the language barrier, a major impediment to raising awareness of varying smoking regulations across Japan.



Inbound tourists were observed smoking at Sarusawa Pond, despite its designation as a non-smoking area. November 28, Nara. (©Sankei by Norihiro Akiyama)

With the easing of pandemic measures, inbound tourists have returned, revitalizing the tourism industry. At the same time, issues surrounding Japan's smoking rules — particularly in tourist destinations — are resurfacing.

In recent years, numerous regions in Japan have prohibited smoking on the street and designated specific smoking areas. However, due to a lack of awareness, some inbound tourists continue to cause problems by violating smoking rules.

Toward the end of November, at the peak of the autumn foliage season, many inbound tourists visited Nara to meet its famed deer. The streets became littered with cigarette butts, including those of several international brands not commonly sold in Japan.

The Language Barrier

In 2009, Nara implemented a ban on outdoor smoking in the area around Nara Park, with a ¥1,000 JPY ($6.78 USD) fine for disregarding warnings from staff. Despite the ban, a Chinese tourist was caught smoking in the restricted area. When warned, he claimed ignorance, stating, "I didn't know smoking was banned. At home, I can smoke anywhere outside, so I thought it was the same here."

It must be noted that the lack of awareness regarding smoking rules is not limited to inbound tourists. However, Ken Adachi, the Executive Director of the Nara Park Zero Garbage Project, believes that the language barrier is a contributing factor. He said, "Sometimes they [inbound tourists] just don't understand when we tell them to stop smoking. There are limits to how much we can raise awareness at the park alone."

Similar issues involving smoking violations by inbound tourists are occurring nationwide. Osaka city has designated six zones prohibiting smoking on the streets. Despite this, approximately 16% of those who broke outdoor smoking regulations in Osaka in 2019 were foreign nationals. This figure dropped to 2% in 2022, which was during the pandemic. However, it is gradually increasing to pre-pandemic levels this year in 2023.

A sign prohibiting smoking on the street, installed in front of JR Nara Station, November 2. (©Sankei by Norihiro Akiyama)

An Inconvenience for Smokers

In May, an insightful survey was conducted by GOOD LUCK TRIP, an informational site for inbound tourists managed by the tourism company Chikyu no Arukikata. Among the 891 respondents from overseas, 14.4% identified "the scarcity/difficulty of finding places to smoke" as an inconvenience in Japan, ranking eighth overall.

Among smokers (237 respondents), this percentage rose to 44.3%. Hiroyuki Yamazaki of the Chikyu no Arukikata Digital Business Department suggested, "Each country has its own rules and etiquette around smoking, so it seems that smokers get confused when visiting an unfamiliar country."


Complicating matters, smoking rules vary across different regions of Japan. This makes it challenging for individuals to discern where smoking is permitted.

Overcoming the Barrier

But it is not as if the government is standing idly by. Osaka city is installing multilingual posters on public smoking restrictions. Patrolling staff are equipped with cards containing instructions in different languages. In anticipation of Expo 2025, all areas in Osaka city will prohibit smoking on the streets and set up designated smoking areas.

Tokyo's Shibuya ward, a popular destination for foreigners, has employed around 20 staff members to go on patrol and inform tourists about the street smoking ban. Public awareness posters feature QR codes that tourists can scan to access maps showing designated smoking areas. This way, language barriers don't pose a problem.

Nara is also considering effective strategies to raise awareness among inbound tourists, such as street displays and signs.

Yamazaki acknowledged, "Inbound tourists can't understand all of the different rules in the different regions." Therefore, he suggested, "Smokers tend to gather at restaurants that allow indoor smoking, so it would be efficient to ask those places to help us inform customers. We should continue making signs in various languages. However, in the future, we should create an app or website that provides information on smoking areas in every region around Japan."


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Norihiro Akiyama

Our Partners