Wednesday, 12 May 2010

PostHeaderIcon Tabako

It appears I haven't posted on my blog for a solid two weeks.  I'm sorry to all those dedicated readers who  (never bother their arse to comment) clicked on the bookmark only to have seen the same picture of a cup of tea.  The reason for my lack of posts was due to a week long holiday, an illness/hangover combo and an addiction to the British election coverage.  I feel like I've lost a bit of my edge for writing long rants so I thought I'd make a simple post with some pictures.  It's interesting if you haven't seen them but other foreigners tend to photograph these a lot so it's not the most original thing I've ever posted.  So here they are... Japan's "smoking manners" posters.

I threw my cigarette butt into the drain.  That is to say, I hid it in the drain.
My lit cigarette always points toward others, never toward myself.
Stand ashtrays.  Disposing of a lit cigarette in one just creates more smoke.

I've seen a number of these posters on ashtrays around train stations and the like.  I took these three  pictures at Tano train station but I was upset because my favourite one wasn't there.  It suggested that a "lit cigarette is at the same height as a child's face".  I'm not entirely sure what that one was suggesting really... always look out for children when you light up or you'll reduce their eyes to smouldering craters?  The other highlights included the declaration that smoke should have the same social stigma as farts.  The saddest tale went to the young boy who went to the beach in search of shells but only found cigarette butts.  The latter was accompanied with a sad looking child with a bucket and spade of course.  Indeed, they all continued the trend of only using English for the labels at the bottom of the poster.. BEACH, SHELLS, BUTTS!  Very dramatic altogether.

I quite like the posters because they are faintly amusing on their own but the English lines read rather strangely.  There are no major spelling or grammar mistakes but they don't have a very natural flow to them.  However, I've seen enough bad direct translations that I assume they've given a fairly decent attempt to get the points across.  In the end though the humour for a native English speak arises from this translation and thus leads to the numerous websites and blogs about it.  The thing I wonder about is why they translated them as there are so few foreigners here.  My only guess is that English was used because it is still viewed as sexy and cool when it comes to companies and adverts.

The interesting thing about this campaign is that none of the posters feature a message that suggests that you should give up smoking.  There is nothing that mentions how they are slowly eating away and destroying your insides.  Instead, it's all very light hearted suggestions that you shouldn't litter and that you should be careful about your second hand smoke.  Indeed, this is about as far as it goes for criticism of smoking in Japan.  Indeed, even this campaign is only aimed at shaming Japanese people who don't keep up an expected etiquette.  The idea of smoking being the problem is never brought into question and instead it is the individual who is blamed for their lack of responsibility.  A main reason (or you know... obvious reason) for this would be that they were commissioned by Japan Tobacco.  They are one of the largest tobacco companies in the world and own some foreign brands such as Camel and Benson and Hedges.  In Japan, some of their popular brands are called Peace and Hope.   By far the most surprising fact about them is that the Japanese Ministry of Finance owns a majority of shares in the company.  Indeed, until 1985 the tobacco industry in Japan was run by a state monopoly.  It's therefore no surprise to find that smoking is quite popular in Japan and there is a direct contrast with the recent implementation of smoking bans in other western countries.  I have therefore found myself living with the familiar smells of post-drinking smoke on my clothes after a few years of only smelling body odour in boozing establishments.

Urgh.  I'll be honest with you.  I was just going to post those pictures so I could do a quick blog post and then run away.  That's easier said than done though as I always start to expand these posts to encompass everything including the bloody history of the Japanese tobacco industry.  The basic point is that almost every middle-aged salaryman in Japan is a smoker.  Japan has one of the highest rates of smokers in the developed world and I believe it is the only one to have seen an increase.  I believe they have recently added warning labels on the packets but the same level of awareness is not visible as it is in other countries.  Even countries like Thailand sell packets with pictures of throat cancer and lung disease and it even put me off buying some cigars on holiday. I'm not really an anti-smoker myself and I don't like it when a government starts punishing people with an addiction by raising taxes on cigarettes to "help people quit".  However, the price of cigarettes in this country is exceptionally cheap compared to back home.  There is a standardised price of about 300 yen which is £2 or the equivalent of two bottles of coke out the vending machine.  Indeed, until recently anyone could buy a packet from a vending machine on the street.  Personally, I feel the degree of "coolness" that is attributed to smoking here is akin to the post-war world of America.  For example, I've seen comic books and anime with the main characters smoking, billboards with a seductive woman smoking and selling furniture and pretty much every generic Japanese actor smokes in the midst of his romanticised anguish.  I'm not exactly outraged myself but I'm just explaining how the attitude towards smoking in Japan hasn't changed in decades.  It's especially surprising that the tobacco companies have been state run and the price of a packet has hardly risen.  It's almost like they're trying to kill off their aging population so they won't have the pension crisis that everyone has feared.

I forgot to mention that Japanese cigarettes are also pretty weak.  A lot of Japanese women appear to smoke but they usually nurture a pack of peach flavoured lites for a week.  Indeed, the men appear to chain smoke during the day but I've witnessed many have a few puffs before throwing it in the ash tray (the adverts above are obsessed with people stubbing them out it seems).  That's not to say they aren't addicted but I often wonder how much of it is some sort of strange, Japanese... conformity.  It's almost like an adult version of Big Dave peer pressuring his mates into smoking behind the big sheds with him.  Also, I'm not saying this is the only reason as I reckon that cigarettes actually provide an important relief for stressed Japanese workers.  They do work themselves into the ground the poor buggers (even if they're just pretending to work hard sometimes) and I get the impression the bitter, black coffee and smoking break keeps them from snapping and killing everyone in their workplace.  Japanese stress:  Keeping the tobacco companies in business since the bubble burst.

Contradictorily to my opening paragraph, this last point is entirely of my own curiousity.  When I started studying Japanese I would drive along in my car and attempt to read shop signs and the like for practice.  I noticed that convenient stores would have the kanji for alcohol (酒) and a sign for tobacco.  The latter did not have a kanji so I expected it to be written in katakana (タバコ) as that is the alphabet used for foreign loan words.  However, the signs are written in hiragana (たばこ)which is used for Japanese words without kanji (amongst other things as grammar etc).  Therefore, I asked a lot of Japanese people why this was the case but it was apparently the first time they had noticed.  I think they just assumed that tobacco comes from Japan along with pasta, curry, televisions and cars.  So, why is tobacco written in hiragana?  I wrote that previous line to boost my search results.  The answer is that katakana was not used for foreign words until Japan opened up to the West in the middle of the 19th century. The words kept their pronunciation but were given an appropriate kanji.  Such an example is tempura (天ぷら) which is fried prawns that were introduced by the Portuguese.  However, the kanji for tobacco fell into disuse and because the word was so common in the Japanese language it maintained the use of hiragana instead of katakana.

Here is a link to the full collection of the smoking manner posters.  Enjoy.


Hayley Beth said...

I'm one of those readers that never comment...and you shamed me into commenting with your snark.

I find it interesting a tobacco company would spend money on any type of poster that will shame their customers--Even if only shaming them into ceasing to be litter bugs. But this is just another topic of your blog that has surprised me and educated me. (Camel is Japanese? I had no idea and I worked in a cigarette store) I clicked through the page with the posters and, maybe I’m just one of those Americans that find quirky humor in things unknown to me, but I was amused for a good ten minutes at least. I feel a type of sadness in the fact that people have to be told that their lit cigarettes will burn bare arms that pass them in the summertime. Are these facts really unknown without the posters? Seems like common sense to me but I live in different world—I can walk down a street in my town and keep a nice three-foot bubble around myself.

Look at that. I rambled. Heh. Thanks for the post~

Ahoy hoy said...

Hello, thanks for the comment. I might shame people every few weeks.

I reckon it's partly a public relations exercise so they can point to their "good work" and maybe even partly a government program to try and put a halt to bad smokers. I don't really know though.

Camel and all the other foreign brands were bought over by Japan Tobacco so they are still American I guess. As Benson and Hedges is still a British brand. It's similar to the Scottish whisky companies who are still run by Scots but owned by a larger Japanese company.

It's interesting that you see traditional brands like Lucky Strike sold in Japan that are no longer even sold in America. The last is especially interesting because I heard the packet was changed in 1942 to the red circle to celebrate the war with Japan. Also, the convenient stores here were all American companies but eventually the Japanese bought the companies out. I learned the latter because I always wondered why they would make a company with the hard pronunciation of 'Lawsons' etc.

aussiehisshou said...

煙草 is the kanji for tobacco.
lit. smoke grass. The kanji do not phonetically read this way and originally these three(多波姑) which are the phonetic equivalent for tobacco were used.
An interesting cultural note is that tobacco is the fifth thing that all Japanese people supposedly see in their hatsuyume(first dream)in the first few days of the new year. The things that come before are; first Mt. Fuji, second a hawk, third an eggplant and fourth a fan.

Louis said...

I was going to mention the kanji for tobacco, but I guess I was beaten to it. But anyway, pretending to smoke to relieve the stress you get from pretending to work? Makes sense to me.

Ahoy hoy said...

Well, I'm well aware there is a kanji for tobacco but I didn't want to further complicate things. I asked my eikaiwa if this was ever used and they told me it was more technical. I know the pair of you were quite pleased to put me in my place but I was more concerned with the historical usage of it. For instance, the phonetic kanji that Peter provided was the one I was referring to. Whilst the Portuguese pronunciation has survived and has now evolved to be used with the literal kanji for the tobacco plant. Therefore, making the unusual history of the loan word that I'm interested in.

You should know the nature of my blog by now, Louis. My main point was actually the unusual case of Japanese people taking up smoking at a later age than western people. I was suggesting there is some form of social conformity in the workplace whether they are aware of it or not. I get the impression that a lot of real work politics are discussed in the informal smoking breaks. How many people take up the habit (along with drinking) at the numerous work parties they are forced to attend? All of these latter points are my own assumptions of course but I can do that because this is my blog and I'm king.

Also, Japanese people do pretend to work... or at least pretend to work even harder than they are. "I'm slowly jogging across the room because I'm so busy that this photocopy cannot possibly wait... and now I must throw myself into my chair with great force."

Anonymous said...

Woah! For the first time, the comments section is mental. People are sniping, others are being annoying ...

You know you've got a good blog when that happens.

Get a "troll", and you're in Blog Nirvanah.

Perhaps I am the troll?

Xander said...

Nice post. It is indeed a little funny and yet intriguing.
Some Japanese men think that smoking is cool and make them look macho. While some smoke due to stress on jobs. Japanese men work their butt off!

Japanese women smoke just for the pleasure of it.
I do think that Japanese girls puffing a stick are cute.

Hayley Beth said...

I always learn so much from posts and the comments that follow. I'm particularly amused by Lucky Strike brand.

I was finishing an anime up last night and a character lit a cigarette and put it out and lit another. This happened a few times. I had always blamed animation for characters never finishing a cigarette but now I figure it is normal to not smoke the cigarette to the filter.

David said...

Sarah Shinju said...

I've been in Japan about a month and I was wondering the same thing about "tabako" Thanks!

Chrbs said...

This completely explains why York in Deadly Premonition chain smokes by only taking a few puffs at a time.

Jura said...

Why would anyone comment on this RUBBISH?

Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

No one likes you, Gareth

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.