Tobacco History and Culture
During the early years after its introduction into Japan, tobacco became the subject of much prohibitive legislation, but in spite of legal hindrances, the cultivation and use of tobacco continued to spread.
By the time when the bans were lifted in the seventeenth century, tobacco was firmly established as one of the most popular consumer luxuries throughout all social levels, including the rank and file of the lower and middle classes.
The characteristic Japanese method of smoking finely-minced tobacco in the long-stemmed, thimble-bowled pipes known as kiseru is also believed to date from approximately the same era. This custom of using finely-shred tobacco was to prove of significance in the history of Japanese technology, for the original hand-shredding process was soon supplemented by a variety of mechanical techniques that stimulated the early development of quality mass-production machinery in Japan.
In addition, the decorative potential of smoking paraphernalia opened up new fields for the creative energies of craftsmen in numerous areas of applied art.
In these and other ways, influences from tobacco made their mark upon early modern Japanese art, society, farm economy, agriculture, transport, and technology.
In the years after 1868, when the Meiji era began and Japan once more became open to cultural stimuli from other parts of the world, new kinds of tobacco products were imported from abroad and rapidly assimilated.
In particular, the introduction of cigarettes revolutionized the smoking habits first of city-dwelling tobacco connoisseurs and then of consumers throughout the nation.
The indigenous tobacco industry flourished as never before, with rival manufacturers striving to outdo one another through flamboyant publicity campaigns.
At the same time, the Meiji-era government was quick to realize the value of tobacco as a potential source of revenue. In 1904, all stages of tobacco leaf processing and sale were brought under government control as a national monopoly, which remained in effect until 1985. Today, too, tobacco and tobacco products continue to play significant roles in Japanese society, agriculture, economics, medical science, and other areas.
Contemporary advances in biotechnology are opening up intriguing new possibilities in the never-ending search for product improvement and further uses for tobacco in industry and everyday life.