Japan is one of the more tobacco-friendly countries in the world; there are no laws restricting cigarettes in buildings, and the smoking rate remains high. That said, more and more public spaces are starting to ban cigarettes, so places like train stations often have crowded smoking areas where people struggle to breathe. As an alternative to these, a new company called Ippuku ("puff") is opening new premium public smoking rooms around Tokyo that use contactless smart card technology for payments.
Smokers will pay ¥50 (about $0.64) a time with their Suica or Pasmo passes, both of which are common forms of electronic money in Tokyo that use the Sony-developed FeliCa RFID system. The cards can also be used for public transportation, vending machines, and payments at convenience stores. Ippuku's pay-as-you-go rooms have subway-stile gates where customers must touch their cards to enter; in an interview with Nikkei Trendy, a company representative says that the use of smart IC cards will help encourage people to come to the rooms without feeling reluctance or having to search around for a coin.
Once inside, the rooms have Wi-Fi, TV, and power outlets, and the company seems confident that its combination of ventilation, aroma mists, and water-based processing system for cigarette butts will create a comfortable atmosphere. Right now there are three Ippuku rooms in the Chiyoda-ku area of Tokyo, which has a history of promoting smoking etiquette — it was actually the first place in Japan to ban smoking in the streets a decade ago. Ippuku is thinking beyond Chiyoda, however, and the plan is to open 36 more rooms in the next three years with a focus on business areas.