Three Salarymen

Three Salarymen

Our morning routine goes something like this …

We rise, down our fruit, and trek over to the train station for the International Herald Tribune and Asahi Shimbun. Once back, coffee is made and computers are switched on. Soon, KCRW’s cool sound fills our traditional Japanese house. Emails are checked; projects are addressed. Mine has me editing and co-writing Dan Goodwin’s epic life story, SKYSCRAPERMAN. It’s a tale that includes his scales of Chicago’s Sears Tower, New York’s World Trade Center, and many other great buildings in the world. In the book’s foreword Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, calls Dan a real-life superhero. Imagine, 80 floors up the side of a building; no rope, no safety net, and only your mind keeping you alive …

My wife’s business consults with Japanese expatriates and others in various parts of the world. Most of her clients started out thinking they wanted to make money on the internet; but hadn’t a clue on how to go about it. Somehow, they stumbled upon her. Now they have a successful online presence. My wife’s skills are an ongoing testimony to innovation in the age of the internet.

And to the extraordinariness of my wife.

By late morning, we’ve hit our wall and, if the weather is right, we head out. If the beach calls, we hop on our bikes and make our way to solitude the other side of Tsujido. Warm sun, yoga on a sarong, pounding surf; all the while our young son sprints in the virgin, sea-swept sand, cheering his childhood, leaving behind tiny, never to be forgotten footprints.

It is such a time.

We are ultimate disc players. Soon we’re warming up, tossing the disc back and forth, leading to a family game. My wife never had an athletic encounter until she crossed paths with me, the LA boy. Together we honed her game in Thailand, on Koh Chang’s White Sand Beach, and Hoi An, in the elephant prints. She now tosses seamlessly from both sides, runs professional routes, and plays D like a glove. I always take note of how her smile grows as the game goes on. My sweet wife!

Morning work, beach play, and we’re ready for lunch.

“How about Marlon’s?”

It’s your typical ramen restaurant, lying somewhere between our house and the beach. We’re regulars now, though at first we had apprehensions. On that day we stood in front for the longest time; something that didn’t make any sense because we were starving. Point One, what we call the guy who owns a business called ‘Point One’ on Kugenuma Kaigan’s main drag, told us about the place, suggesting we make it a late lunch otherwise we’d be part of a line that snaked down the street. The problem was, that first time, the place was still nearly full and, as everyone knows, restaurants in Japan can be fouled by cigarette smoke. We’d been in the fresh air on the beach, and we were accompanied by our young son, so we were struggling with the thought of breathing second hand smoke.

On the street, off to our left, three salarymen can be seen puffing away.

What’s up with these guys? There’s no office building close by and they don’t look as if they’re waiting for a bus. What’s the deal? Then my mind dares to wonder…

Where I’m from, California, smoking has been banned in public places for years. Not so in Japan. Every time I cross the Pacific, I go through what I call ‘my smelling and breathing cigarette smoke adjustment period’. It really sucks! I call it an adjustment period just to ease the pain. The truth is I never adjust to breathing carcinogenic cigarette smoke.

California’s ban on smoking was brought on by the culinary workers and bartenders – the people working in its restaurants and bars. Many of these people are young with plans that go beyond the restaurant or bar; however, because smoking was allowed, the workers were exposed to a regular assaults on their health. A movement in California started and, after several fights with the tobacco industry, a law went into effect banning smoking in restaurants and bars. Today, the only inside public place in California you can smoke is on Indian land. The addiction of the American Indian Nation to the white man’s tobacco and fire water has a long history and, unfortunately, it still has a hold on many of its people.

Bans on smoking are the future for most places on the planet and California, as it usually does, is setting the pace. New York recently passed no smoking legislation and other states are following suit. Even Italy and France have jumped on the health express. The message is clear … Bogie and his cigarette were cool 70 years ago; but things have changed. People know cigarette smoke kills not only smokers, but non-smokers as well. Smoking can no longer be tolerated.


Early on in California’s ban on smoking I heard one man complain to a bar owner, “Hey, smokers have rights!” Well, what about that? What rights are we talking about? The right to stink up the place? The right to spread disease? The right to perform an act that could lead to the death of innocent people? Get real. There is no basis whatsoever for smoking in public.


In Japan, the smoking roost is ruled by Japan Tobacco. These characters are killing people and, get this, Japan Tobacco is fifty-percent owned by the Japanese government. And, until twenty years ago, the Japanese government was the sole owner of Japan Tobacco. In an apparent attempt to improve their image, the government sold half to private concerns. Either way, who expects the Japanese government to get behind a ban on smoking? That would mean killing the cash cow and, as any good capitalist knows, you don’t kill the cash cow.

Resolving the smoking problem in Japan will not be done by the government. Only non-smokers, the victims, can bring that about. But that rubs up against the passiveness of its people. I’ve been with large groups of Japanese who refuse to dine in a restaurant that bans smoking because one member of the group is a smoker. Nevertheless, maybe even here, things are changing. Check out this short piece from the Asahi Shimbun describing what Japan’s national soccer team was forced to endure …

“Several Japan National Team soccer players were angry after having to take a smoking car on a bullet train to Niigata for Wednesday’s Asian Cup qualifier with Yemen. Goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was one of 12 Japanese players left fuming as fellow passengers puffed their way through the two-hour journey, Nikkan Sports reported on Monday. ‘The person next to me was smoking the whole way. It was horrible,’ Kawaguchi said. ‘Second-hand smoke is not exactly good for you, is it?’ ”

Certainly, there are people in Japan who’d like to see smoking banned. With the government in a tobacco business that sponsors 103 brands, however, it will be an uphill battle. Nevertheless, it’s one that needs to be fought.

American tobacco companies, the same criminals who shamefully paraded before the US Congress 15 years ago, testifying tobacco was not a health hazard, have been secretly increasing nicotine in their ‘cancer sticks’. A law in the state of Massachusetts requires tobacco companies to report test results indicating the amount of nicotine inhaled by smokers.  From 1998 through 2004, addictive nicotine was increased by an average of 10%. Of the 170 brands tested, 166 fell into the state’s highest range for nicotine. In reality, all 170 showed amounts of nicotine that would produce a heavy dependence. Clearly, the goal of tobacco companies is snaring new, young smokers while holding on to the one’s they’ve already hooked.

It’s enough to make you sick!

* * * * *

So, anyway, there we are with our noses to the window staring at the delicious looking food being served up. Still, my mind can’t quite let go of the three salarymen off to our left. These guys are smoking like there’s no tomorrow. There are seats available in the place, so what’s the deal? My eyes scour the counter for ashtrays; but I see none. I nudge my wife, “Please ask these salarymen if smoking is allowed in the restaurant.” She’s a bit reluctant but does so anyway. After a minute she returns smiling. “Smoking is not allowed!” Were in like puppies rushing a tit. I think I dove to my seat, screaming “Food now!” (Please tell me I didn’t really do that.)

You couldn’t ask for a better eating experience. The restaurant was spotless, the food came quickly, and it was piping hot. And the air, ah the air, was pure as new driven snow. We named the place Marlon’s because of the Marlon Brando images that formed while watching the t-shirted chef flip cha-han amid a backdrop of old American movie posters hanging on a nearby wall. On our way out, I noticed a stuffed marlin on the overhang above the counter.


Later, our bellies full, we cruise pass a soon to open Italian joint on a corner a few minutes from our house. They are putting in the windows and we stop for a minute to watch. One end of the room has leather seating; at the other end, is a round, wooden bar. My mind quickly leaps to a desired conclusion, “They’re putting together my kind of place!”  Classy Italian and only a stone’s throw away. Wow! But then I stop cold. “What about smoking?” My eyes glance across the street at the small tobacco shop. You know what those people are pushing for… “Light ’em up, the more the merrier!”

They plan on calling the place, Osteria Barca. Stylish name, but will they have the class to put up a sign that says, “As a courtesy to our non-smoking customers, if you’re compelled to smoke, please do so outside. Thank you.” In Roma, there’s this wildly successful restaurant called, Enoteca Capranica. The owner, Maurizo Bertusi, enjoys talking about the ban on smoking now in force in Italy. “It has been good. Because everywhere there are more non-smokers than smokers, this keeps the larger numbers happy.”

So, here’s to hoping Osteria Barca will listen to the words of Maurizo Bertusi. And here’s to hoping one day I’ll be inside ordering … Caprese, marguerita pizza, pepperinchino pasta e chianti, per favore.

Ciao for now, il mio amico.

D. B. Guidinger © All Rights Reserved 2008