Smoking is now prohibited in most train stations and rest stops throughout Japan under a law meant to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke.

The smoking ban, which took effect Thursday, also is recommended — but not mandatory — for places in which people congregate, including schools, hospitals, department stores and public buildings.

Many private train companies and highway rest stops in the Kanto Plain have already banned smoking. Keihin Electric Express Railway, Odakyu Electric Railway and Keio Electric Railway ban smoking in all their stations.

The heavily traveled East Japan Railway, however, only bans smoking from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. weekdays in six Yamanote line stations, including Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Ochanomizu and Hamamatsu-cho. Smoking had been allowed in designated areas at all East JR stations.

Before the law took effect, Odakyu Electric Railway created designated smoking areas and prohibited smoking in all its stations during morning and evening rush hours. However, more than half of those responding to a customer survey said they wanted smoking banned at all times in every station, railway officials said.

“We have considered the situation and studied ways to better separate smoking areas. However, we have decided it was difficult to secure separate smoking areas on the platforms or hallways due to limited space,” Odakyu said in a news release. Creating separate smoking areas also would cause safety problems and incur high installation costs, the railway said — so it decided to ban smoking.

Most highway rest stops throughout Japan also have prohibited smoking inside buildings.

Japan Highway Services and Japan Roadside Services Organization (J-SaPa) manage most of Japan’s rest stops. J-SaPa barred smoking inside buildings except in existing smoking areas. Japan Highway Services will prohibit all smoking inside buildings.

However, both are providing ashtrays outside buildings. Rest stops on roads such as Yokohama-Yokosuka Expressway, Tomei Expressway and Chuo Expressway will be affected, officials say.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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