Weird to think that I once lived in an era where second-hand cigarette smoke was ubiquitous. In every store, restaurant, office building, even in hospitals. Smoke was everywhere, as were smoldering ashtrays. It was entirely normal. Talk show hosts smoked on the air while doing interviews. And I, in my young adulthood, mindlessly contributed to those toxic clouds. Then, laws were made and spaces where smoking was permitted were gradually reduced. Each time a species of public space was designated “NO SMOKING” doom was foretold (“no smoking in bars!? They’ll go out of business!”), militant resistance sworn, then capitulation, acceptance, normalization.
When I first moved to Japan, I lived in a rural town with Mt. Fuji looming on the horizon and it was like stepping back to those smoke-saturated times, because the anti-smoking rules that had become commonplace in the states had not yet been implemented in Japan. The school where I worked was on the fifth floor of a department building (Itoyokado) and people, mostly men, smoked freely. Restaurants either had no non-smoking sections or such sections were so small as to be meaningless. Being thrust back into that smoke-filled environment was like being jettisoned back to my childhood. So I experienced an arguably historically unique sensation of feeling at once nostalgic for an era of my youth because of an abrupt return of the persistent odor of carcinogenic particulates and feeling the woozy disorienting effects of extreme culture shock from moving from an American city to a small Japanese town where almost no one spoke English, no familiar food or music or…movements…was available, and everything was written in incomprehensible pictographs.