TW: Mention of suicidal thoughts/cancer/general trauma.
Smoking came to me at a time where losing myself to the yellow teeth, lung cancer and another sad Facebook message from someone I didn’t know, reminiscing our good times, seemed preferable to rolling out of bed each and every morning. I was tired. The sort of tired that doesn’t go away no matter how long you sleep, and leaves you going through a routine that becomes harder and harder to complete until you can’t do anything but lie in bed and hope for some sort of way for it to end.
I was under the impression I’d take my own life soon. So, smoking was just one last hurrah before I jumped over the edge and met eternity. I can’t even remember who gave me the first cigarette I had, but it was calming to know that despite how my life seemed to be crumbling away from me, outside of my control, I could at least control how to slowly poison myself.
But life has a way of defying expectations. By the time I’d grown out of my funk of self-hatred, I found myself dependent on cigarettes in a way that I hadn’t ever before. I was a caregiver, freelance writer and I had stopped taking the tablets for my chronic depression.
It was a volatile, heady mix that overall, made my life harder than it needed to be.
Judgment, a Yakuza spin-off game from publisher Ryu Ga Gotoku, released this year, June 25th, and has you playing the role of Takayuki Yagami, a lawyer turned detective. In Judgment smoking is a feature that raises Yagami’s energy — giving him the power to dish out pain on any enemy he comes across. You can earn this energy in other ways such as eating, drinking, and fighting, but smoking is one of the easiest and you can even upgrade it as you continue to play.
In Japan, where Judgment is set, smoke shelters, public ashtrays on sidewalks and in train stations, and even vending machines are a common sight. Here in rainy England, smoking shelters are mostly seen in places like hospitals or outside of a few shopping malls. In England, as well as the rest of Europe, Australia and North America, there are mandatory smoking bans in public areas, and even in restaurants and bars. In Japan, this isn’t the case. Of course, consumption of tobacco has dwindled in these past few years, but it’s clear to see how RGG has implemented this, and really? Seeing them in internet cafes, outside batting centers and other various places in Judgment was a nice, if somewhat sad reminder of a time where that smoking shelter was a place of comfort — even if it ultimately ended up being a false one.
With Yagami as a detective it makes sense that smoking, in some aspects, would be a disguise of sorts. He can use them to hide in or behind when tailing someone, and he can use the shelter to listen in to people’s conversation to learn more about the people around him. Sometimes what you hear can even help in locating things and solving cases.
And even if Yagami chooses to listen in, it doesn’t matter — the moment he steps into that room, brings a cigarette to his mouth and idly plays with his jacket, Yagami and his status is invisible to the inhabitants around him. They converse and speak about their lives, about nothing at all, and it matters little because the place they’re in is not a place at all. It’s a non-place.
A non-place, as Marc Augé describes it is a “term for generic places such as bus depots, train stations, and airports which, however elaborate and grandiose, do not confer a feeling of place.” Due to this lack of a place, it can be argued that there are no real strong feelings tying people to the location and in some ways, this is correct. Yagami himself, does not truly have a place to call ‘home’, even in his office. His office is where he sleeps, eats and interacts socially with others, and like the smoking shelter he often frequents, it is a place where he can gather and assess information. It is not a home, but Yagami is drawn to both places either through necessity or through the desire of connecting to people, personally and professionally.
During the time I spent smoking, I frequented shelters outside of events and due to my role as a carer, outside of hospitals. As Auge describes, I didn’t feel as though I was drawn to them in the sense that I belonged there, the feeling that I felt whenever I was at home, but I certainly felt the desire of being faceless, being someone who nobody knew, and yet, still having a connection with everyone all the same.
There were nurses complaining about how long they had left on their shift, men and women worried about their relatives and during one of the first few times I had a cigarette in my mouth, I sat next to an older woman with a pipe who helped me learn how to inhale and exhale the smoke without me feeling sick afterwards. I never got her’s or any other individual’s name. In a place like a smoking shelter, it didn’t seem important to know each other outside of the small five to ten minute conversations we had.
The smoking shelters of Judgment are the same, the conversations you overhear are a way that connects Yagami to the world of Kamurocho. He’ll often hear conversations between a teacher and his student, or a boyfriend and girlfriend. What they know becomes his eyes and ears, and without even realizing it until later, it became clear that they were a part — no matter how small — of Yagami’s life in Kamurocho that mattered.
As every Yakuza fan will tell you, Kamurcho is more than just a place where the story of Yakuza and Judgment takes place. It’s an area where people thrive and, depending on who they are, break free from the shackles of society. More importantly: Kamurocho is a character that is so familiar, it feels like home.
Smoking shelters do not feel like home in Judgment, but they offer the same amount of power as a real one. Not only will you learn more about the people you come across, but you’re all on equal playing fields — nobody knows who you are. All you have in common is that you’re in the same grey, drab, paint slowly peeling due to sun damage, smoking shelter and you’re all wearing the same small, cancerous uniform: a cigarette.
Being in the same place, a place that is nearly identical each and every time you come across it, you can’t help but form a bond with the people with you — even if it’s only a few short seconds before their gone out of your life completely. It allows you to become someone other than who you are, almost as if you’ve been transformed just by stepping into the same space. Perhaps it is because of how transitory smoking shelters are in general, a quick stop before you reach your destination.
But a smoking shelter being a non-place doesn’t mean that it isn’t full to the brim with character. Despite only knowing them for mere seconds sometimes, I can still recall a young woman muttering angrily into her phone about her daughter never answering her texts, or the older gentleman who kept banging his head against the wall and sighing over and over. Despite being faceless, who they were and what they did, mattered to me.
I quit smoking in solidarity with my mother. She’d been told a string of reasons why she should stop, but the main one was simple to remember: stop or die.
I don’t regret stopping with her and possibly saving me from years of discomfort, but I miss who I was when I was inside those shelters. The confidence that came from being able to play on the same field as everyone else. Sometimes that was the only interaction I had with the outside world. Whenever I left that transitory space, it felt as though the shelter had chewed me up and spit me back out again.
I was Aimee, but the one who I could barely abide. The one who stammered, who was submissive under everyone’s gaze, who felt as though she wasn’t worthy of anyone’s attention.
Yagami has his own demons. Some that I can sadly relate to, but I can’t help but feel envious that his continuous use of tobacco helps put him in a space with people he can pretend to be someone else around.
I want that back.
I miss it.