Japan Tries Smoking Clean...Sort Of


The vapid folly of vaping

It was bound to happen. Someone in Osaka rigged a vape device for nicotine delivery, which is the main purpose for most vape devices around the world but puzzlingly illegal in Japan.  

On March 26, Osaka prefectural police reported that the owner of a vape store in Hirakata City, made nicotine liquid for a vape device. He was charged on suspicion of violating Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices law. If he was gonna get busted, he might as well have tried cannabis.

Legal vaping in Japan, for now, is the inhalation of a flavored and scented glycerin vapor. While vape store owners are happy to boast of the wide range of flavors on offer they are distressingly vague on what chemicals compose the vapor source. The best answer we got on the composition of the vape juice, from a local proprietor, was either vegetable glycerin or propylene glycol and some flavoring agents.



Among the 300 flavors at the Vape Studio near my office in Ginza are Red Bull, Coca-Cola, Aloe Vera, Grilled Beef, Kimchee and Collagen. Collagen? Don’t ask. Flavor cartridges start at 1,000 yen each while vape devices range from 3,000 to 10,000 yen and up.

Give me an order of kimchee with a side of formaldehyde

Before you start dreaming of a post-lunch kimchee vape, let’s go back to what else is in that glycerin and propylene glycol in the vapor. According to an April 5 article in the New York Times, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, is generated when propylene glycol or glycerin is heated for vaping. And it’s not a small amount. A study published in the journal “Environmental Science and Technology” reported that the formaldehyde coming out of a vape device or e-cigarette exceeds “ceiling limits,” or a level that is not even allowed in the atmosphere for one second. Suddenly nicotine is sounding very healthy.

Hold on, that’s not all. Did you ever wonder why microwave and movie theater popcorn has that strange smell? Sure it tastes good and kinda buttery, but you know something’s a little off. The flavor comes from a chemical called diacetyl, which is safe to eat but not to inhale. That’s why people working in factories where that fake butter flavor is created started coming down with lung problems or a condition lovingly nicknamed “popcorn lung.” They were inhaling too much diacetyl. Guess what? Diacetyl is also used to create all sorts of flavors, such as strawberry, piña colada, and butter scotch. It should come as no surprise then that U.S. researchers found diacetyl in fumes from 75% of the vape devices they tested.

With diacetyl getting a bad rap, some U.S. vape makers are shifting to something called 2,3-pentanedione to produce some of the 7,000 flavors marketed for vape devices. According to the same NY Times article, about 50% of vape devices tested positive for 2,3-pentanedione. That’s OK right? Well, according research based on animal testing that chemical can cause something similar to…wait for it…popcorn lung.


Would you like butter flavor with your popcorn lung?

We can only assume that Japanese health officials believe that getting popcorn lung or inhaling formaldehyde is not as bad as inhaling nicotine, (not to mention all the chemicals that go with conventional smoking). But it's not like Japan is officially against smoking or nicotine. While the tide is slowly turning toward smoke-free public spaces, many bars and restaurants still allow smoking and legislation to ban smoking in such places before the 2020 Olympics has been derailed and watered down on the twisted logic that it would hurt the sales of smaller establishments.  

At the same time, Japanese consumers are eagerly shifting to non-cigarette nicotine delivery systems. In fact, the e-cigarette market is exploding, and some tobacco industry estimates suggest that sales may soon surpass regular cigarettes.  Just take a gander into any alleyway or park in Tokyo, and you’ll see someone puffing away on an e-cig. Several e-cigarette devices are being heavily marketed, including IQOS, a Philip Morris product, and Glo produced by British American Tobacco (BAT). In fact, IQOS has a well-appointed shop in Ginza that resembles a fine jewelry store, complete with comfortable seating and attractive sales people.

The difference between these e-cig devices and vapes, however, is as foggy as a hookah bar. Both products purport to “heat” rather than burn tobacco. Perhaps the best distinction, is that e-cigs heat a tobacco unit, composed of tobacco leaves while vapes fire up a liquid cartridge. Most importantly, in Japan, e-cigs are for nicotine while vaping is not. However, another product that recently entered the market is straddling the fence between vaping and e-cigarettes.



Make room for the Ploom

Enter Ploom Tech. Japan Tobacco (JT) developed Ploom Tech products after acquiring the technology patents from a San Francisco start-up. It’s billed as a hybrid between a heated tobacco product and a vaporizer. Thin and shaped like a pen, the device looks like any other vape device. However, according to JT, it heats a non-nicotine liquid, which passes through a capsule containing granulated tobacco to deliver good old nicotine to the smoker. JT is promoting Ploom as a near odorless smoking device, thus less offensive the IQOS and Glo and much less offensive than conventional cigarettes. And that's the key. No combustion. No ash. No offense.

With the smoking public clamoring for offense-free smoking options, I suppose it’s only a matter of time before JT figures out a way to monetize nicotine liquid for vape devices. Remember,  in Japan it’s not really important whether you hurt yourself or not, as long as you don’t raise a stink and offend others.  But don’t hold your breath on smoke-free bars and restaurants, that cloud has yet to be cleared.     


Tokyo’s Olympic Slave Labor Plan


Everybody’s excited about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, right? Well, not everybody. Some of us never wanted it in the first place, because we know what it will bring. An orgasm of unneeded construction in a city that already supports an endless cycle of demolition and building. An influx of short term visitors to a country that is both enjoying and grappling with skyrocketing numbers of inbound tourists.


Who stands to benefit from the Olympics? The same entities that always benefit from such endeavors: major media and marketing companies, big construction firms, “the Olympic” brand, the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) and, one would hope, the athletes. 

What about the common citizen? Tokyo residents, both Japanese and foreign, may experience an incremental increase in pride and a burst of excitement as the world turns to Japan, but those feelings will largely be offset by mountains of inconvenience, the hollow pain of the post-event hangover and the realization that nothing has really changed for the better, or really at all (aside from a few new sidewalks).


If you build it, they will come and work for free.


Everyone knows that Tokyo will produce an event that is brilliantly branded, perfectly orchestrated and admired worldwide as a sparkling example of Japan’s collective resources. But this is not 1964. The world does not need to be shown just how far Japan has risen from the ashes of war. Japan Inc. won, it got fat and lazy and yet, despite metabolic issues, it hungers for more.

For those reasons, the Tokyo 2020 plan for soliciting an all-volunteer Olympic work force is both puzzling and repulsive. You might think that Olympic volunteers would be charged with tasks like making sure runners don’t veer off course, providing directions to visitors and maybe passing out maps and pamphlets. But the JOC has much, much more in mind.

According to the JOC, there are two categories of volunteers: Games Volunteers and City Volunteers. Both Japanese and foreign residents who are 18-years old are welcome. Games Volunteers should be able to participate in training sessions and work for 10 days or more. City Volunteers should be able to work five hours a day for five days.

Here’s a small sample of some of the volunteer jobs that are on offer. Drivers, language services, logistics support, medical support and doping control. Yes, you read that correctly. The JOC expects to recruit licensed physicians and pharmacologists to provide their free time to conduct one of the most important and politically charged aspects of the Olympics: drug testing. That is making sure the athletes don’t cheat by ingesting one or more of a seemingly endless array of performance enhancing chemicals.


What should I do with this vial of blood?

Surely, the JOC is not expecting pharmacists and physicians to take on the vital role of doping control for free. Yes, it is, and that's not all. These volunteers will have to pay for their own transportation and accommodations. Here’s the official statement.

“Games Volunteers and City Volunteers are not compensated. In principle, these volunteers will be responsible for transportation costs to and from Tokyo and for securing their own accommodations.”

Say what? Even slaves get provided with meals, transportation and accommodations. Don’t worry, the JOC may decide to help you find a place to stay and give you a “cool Japan” uniform. Here is the rest of the statement.

“Providing information related to accommodations will be considered. Meanwhile, we will now consider details concerning what may be provided to volunteers, including uniforms that instill a sense of unity and pride, training, and meals.”


United colors of volunteering

I know nothing fills me with pride and helps me sleep better at night than having a crisp new uniform hanging in my closet. However, it comes as no surprise that not everyone is happy with this situation.


“Let me say again to all students who are thinking to be a volunteer for Tokyo Olympics…because the Olympics is the biggest commercial event. And for now, more than 40 billion yen [has been] collected from 42 sponsors, so they don’t need volunteers. If you do, the money just goes to JOC and Dentsu. It is just silly,” tweeted Ryu Honma

Yes, Tokyo 2020 volunteers have a lot to look forward to, such as the unbridled joy of helping companies, such as the advertising giant Dentsu, fatten their pockets, while making the fat cat dinosaurs that run the JOC look good.  Sounds like a win-win. Where do I sign?

Every Dog has its Day

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Or so they say. It seems like 2017 was the year of the dog with all the barking and biting and growling going on around the world. Although, to be fair, there was a lot of crowing in 2017, so the rooster had his say. We are looking forward to a 2018 that behaves more like humankind’s best friend. Loyal and lovable. If you’re looking for someone to get your message out, feel free to toss us a bone. We promise to be good listeners, able retrievers and stalwart team players. Happy New Year.

If You Brand It, They Will Come


How much would you pay for a T-shirt? For the 5,000 people who lined up for hours to just to have an opportunity to shop at the Supreme pop-up boutique in Tokyo this summer, that could be as much as ¥60,000. Heck, people were re-selling their tickets on Twitter, just to shop at the store for ¥500,000. Only 400 people were allowed in on the first day.

Crazy? That’s what I would call it. Personally, I’m partial to Hanes Beefy Ts. They go for about 1,500 yen, are of decent heft and quality, come in all colors of the rainbow and are very comfortable. You don’t get a swank logo, but there’s a lot to be said for minimalism these days.  In my humble opinion, there’s not much to the Supreme logo anyway, but for some people it has a kind of hyper-spiritual cachet, provided you worship the God of Brand Consumerism.

Want a little more cotton with your brand? A Supreme hoodie, featuring the Louis Vuitton logo retails in Japan at about ¥132,000 yen and were being re-sold on sites such as Yahoo Auctions for more than ¥500,000 this past summer.

 A Plan for Outfitting Supreme Beings
Unfortunately, the after-sale market is the only place Japan Supreme fans will be getting their merchandise anymore. The Tokyo pop-up store, which opened on June 30, was supposed to run until July 13. By July 7 with 80,000 souls waiting to get in and most items out of stock, the pop-up was shuttered.  A similar situation unfolded in Los Angeles, where, not surprisingly, fights broke out. That store was mercifully closed as well. And Louis Vuitton has reportedly canceled plans to offer Supreme goods in its Tokyo outlets. Although word has it that VIP sales may be initiated.

What the heck is Supreme anyway? Originated by James Jebbia, it began as a skateboarder fashion boutique in New York in 1994. After a series of collaborations with designers such as Kermit, Takashi Murakami and brands such as Nike, Vans, North Face and, most recently, Luis Vuitton, and designs and ads featuring Kate Moss and the Supreme Box logo, the brand rapidly became a global phenomenon. With hooks into the music world and pop culture, designs have featured Prodigy, Isaac Hayes and Miles Davis, Supreme is often compared to Harajuku’s very own BAPE, which features collaborations with Pharrell and Kayne West, among others.


Going Organic with Louis Vuitton
Supreme’s connection with Luis Vuitton began in 2000, when the brand released caps, T-shirts and more emblazoned with the LV monogram pattern. Copyright law suits were threatened by Louis Vuitton, but too many celebrities had already posted photos of Supreme LV gear on Instagram. (For the roots of organic LV collaboration, check out the story of Harlem’s own Dapper Dan aka Daniel Day). By 2017, LV-Supreme collaborations became official, pop-up stores popped up around the world and the madness followed.

Call me a dork, but I’ll stick with Hanes and Uniqlo and sneakers you can buy at ABC Mart. I’d rather save my money for a trip to the real home of Louis Vuitton.

Last but not least, those who feel that ignoring Supreme isn't enough of a statement may want to go for the Rick & Morty (of Netflix) inspired knock off, "Schwifty." You can order one online for 20 bucks. 

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