On a spring day, with the winter chill faded away and the warm sun shining, some might say the air itself tastes cleaner. Whether or not you’re prone to such poetic phrasing yourself, though, that’s going to be objectively the case come this spring on shinkansen (bullet trains) traveling between Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, as rail operator JR Central has announced that it will be removing the train’s smoking rooms.
The Tokkaido Shinkansen’s current N700-series cars were introduced in the summer of 2007. While smoking is not allowed in any of the cars’ seating areas, cars 3, 10, and 15 are equipped with standing-use smoking rooms. The rooms are located at the end of the cars, near where they connect to the next carriage in the train, and are accessed via a sliding door, as seen in the video here.
However, JR Central says that due to increased awareness of the health risks of smoking, as well as reductions in the relative size of the smoking population, it will be permanently shutting down these smoking rooms in the spring, the customary season for major policy changes at Japanese companies, as it coincides with the start of most organizations’ fiscal years.
As the Tokaido Shinkansen line blends into the JR West-operated Sanyo Shinkansen line, the removal of smoking rooms will also affect trains travelling further west from Osaka, with the combined lines comprising a stretch from Tokyo Station in the east to Hakata (Fukuoka) in the west.
The change marks the final step in the transition to an entirely smoke-free environment for the Tokaido Shinkansen, which used to have entire cars in which smoking was allowed within the passenger seating area.
JR Central’s announcement through its official Twitter account has drawn a mixed response, with some applauding the move and others lamenting it as another chipping away at the smokers’ paradise that Japan used to be.
“I’m all for this change.”
“Glad to see this progress,”
“I absolutely agree with this decision. [With the smoking rooms], the non-smoking cars were meaningless.”
“Really, they should have gotten rid of the smoking rooms [back in 2020] when they debuted the upgraded N700S Shinkansen cars.”
“Another example of smokers being bullied.”
“So sad. As a smoker, I really appreciated having the smoking rooms.”
“Well, guess I’m taking airplanes from next spring.”
Regarding the last remark, even after the shinkansen removes its smoking rooms, flying actually isn’t likely to make it much easier for anyone get their nicotine fix. Smoking isn’t allowed on airline flights in Japan, and when you factor in the time spent sitting on the tarmac before takeoff and after landing but before arriving at the gate, the total time travelers spend sitting inside a plane isn’t that different from the time they’d spend sitting inside the shinkansen for many destinations.
As for the comment that non-smoking cars were rendered “meaningless” by the smoking rooms, that’s an exaggeration, but still has some truth to it. Smoking rooms only keep their smoke contained within until someone opens the door. Once that door slides open, smoke, and its smell, flows out into the other parts of the train.
While there’s usually another door that separates the passenger seating area and the part of the train that the smoking room door opens directly into, that intermediate area is also where you’ll find the bathrooms and trash cans, which non-smokers are also likely to want to access during their trip without being exposed to cigarette smoke escaping through the smoking room door. There’s also the fact that the concentrated odor of smoke from inside the smoking room tends to transfer onto the clothing and hair of the people who use it, who then bring the smell back into the passenger area when they return to their seats.
JR Central says that once the smoking rooms are shut down, the space will be used to store emergency water rations, to be distributed to passengers in the case the train has to make an extended unscheduled stop.
The company has not announced a specific day for the end of the shinkansen smoking rooms, but generally most companies’ “spring” policy changes occur in late March/early April.
Source: JR Central, Twitter/@JRCentral_OFL
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