It’s getting tougher to be a smoker in Japan. It was once a paradise for tobacco lovers, who were free to light up in workplaces, restaurants, bars, on the street, and pretty much any darn place they pleased. Add to that the low price of cigarettes and the ever-present vending machines, and you couldn’t swing a tanuki without hitting a smoker. In recent years, though, smoking has been banned on the streets and in offices, the taxes on tobacco have gone up, and more and more public spaces are going smoke free. The government even announced recently that they are launching a 10-year plan to cut the smoking rate nearly in half.
While this trend has tobacco companies shaking in their boots, one company has turned it into a golden business opportunity. For just 50 yen, Ippuku (roughly “a cig” in Japanese) offers smokers a comfortable, indoor place to take a 15-min smoke break.
According to parent company General Holdings, Ippuku was founded on the philosophy that smokers and nonsmokers alike should be able to enjoy the neighborhoods where they live and work, and they thought that a dedicated paid smoking area might facilitate that. The company sent out a questionnaire regarding smoking habits and found that there were very few places that smokers could spend a relaxing and productive 15 minutes while they got their fix, so they set out to create some.
Starting in July, three Ippuku branches will open in Tokyo, near Ochanomizu, Jimbocho and Kanda Stations, and General Holdings plans to open a total of 36 shops covering all 23 wards of Tokyo by the end of 2015. The shops, which will be open from 6am to midnight every day, feature ventilation fans, aroma diffusers, free internet access, drink vending machines, background music, and televisions, among other features. In addition to the one-time rate of 50 yen, users will also be able to choose from day (100 yen), week (500 yen) and month (1800 yen) passes.
The company says they have tried to think of every detail to create a comfortable experience for their customers so that “even if they have to pay, people will choose Ippuku.”