In Japan, the price of every cigar is determined by the government, with retail prices based on the wholesale cost. This doesn’t allow price competition between retailers, but does benefit cigar lovers, as aged, vintage, and hard-to-find cigars also have their prices capped regardless of their age or rarity. Yutaka Kobayashi, La Casa del Habano Cigar Club’s Habanos Academia Master trainer, notes that a lot of people browsing the walk-in humidor inquire about box codes to snare a good deal. “We field international enquiries from the UK and Europe, especially for cigars such as the 2014 Asia Pacific Limited Edition Diplomáticos Bushido, which is considered ‘Japan’s cigar’ due to the story behind it – it is still highly sought after.” Maki Nakane, general manager of Cigar Club Japan, the country’s official Habanos S.A. sub-distributor, says smoking is predominantly banned outdoors in many business and retail precincts in Tokyo. But what is pleasing, from her point of view, is that smoking is welcomed at most bars and restaurants across the city.
Tokyo’s Ginza District
Attracting seekers of the good life, the up-market retail precinct of Ginza is home to classic, discreet, and flamboyant cigar locations to suit any mood. Kikusui Ginza has been a tobacco emporium in the truest sense of the word since opening its doors in 1903. Hiroyuki Kobayashi has witnessed the ebb and flow of the cigar market over his 38-year tenure at the shop. “Interest in premium cigars has slightly increased during my time. It helps that Ginza is very accessible for foreigners,” says Kobayashi. Off the beaten track, and tucked into the basement level of the Tokyo Ginza Building, Reserva is an intimate speakeasy well worth visiting.
“Reserva was established as a haven for cigar connoisseurs and newcomers to explore premium cigars. It is a place dedicated to growing cigar culture,” says owner Yuzo Ohkoshi. A love of cigar culture led Ohkoshi to create a cigar, the Humidor Selection 30 Yuzo to suit the Japanese palate and make cigars an enjoyable experience for beginners. “It sold out very quickly and I’m pleased it had a positive impact,” says Ohkoshi.
The Davidoff of Geneva flagship store at 8-5-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku, has been a haven for executives since a ban on smoking in private offices was put in place two years ago. Classic cigars such as the Davidoff Signature 2000 and Aniversario Special R are popular, notes manager Tatsuya Hamasaki. “Many of our customers are introduced to cigars by their family and friends,” says Hamasaki.
Across the road, an expertly stocked bar and two distinct lounge areas at Le Connaisseur make it the place to be on Friday evenings. Hisashi Shimura, has been behind the bar for two decades and enjoys recommending cigars and cocktails to newcomers. “Younger customers are open to guidance on how to enjoy cigars,” says Shimura. “Le Connaisseur’s extensive liquor selection appeals to the Friday after-work crowd and many pull up a chair at the bar and stay until the 4am closing time on Saturday morning.”
Cigar Lounges in Tokyo
A subterranean escape featuring chandeliers, a fireplace, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelf complement the live jazz bands playing each night at Tableaux Lounge in Daikanyama. “Tableaux Lounge offers the perfect place to unwind with a cocktail and cigar in the evening, with many of our guests joining us after dinner from Tableaux restaurant next door,” says cigar manager Natsumi Yufu.
Despite its Spanish name, Quien Quiera in Shirokane offers cigar lovers a traditional Taisho-era setting in a house that’s over 100 years old. Exposed timber beams, high ceilings, and an extensive cocktail list attract locals and tourists alike for after-dinner drinks.
A walk-in humidor nestled amongst men’s suits, shoes, and belts in a department store is a sight to behold. Head to the men’s department at Isetan Shinjuku and Mitsukoshi Ginza for well-stocked humidors and plenty of accoutrements. “Our small smoking lounge is popular for those who need a break while their partners continue shopping,” says Kaori Kudo, manager of the Mitsukoshi Ginza store.
Older and Younger Newcomers
Several family-owned tobacconists in Tokyo maintain impressive inventories for their size. With a separate retail and lounge set-up, Nomura Tobacco has an appealing offer of non-Cuban cigars that matches the dedicated Cuban shelf space. Elder statesman Masaoki Nomura notes that it was once only the elite who smoked cigars, but now they are accessible to everyone. “Nicaraguan cigars are becoming popular, especially amongst younger cigar smokers. Our economy is improving, so more people are buying boxes,” says Nomura. Amanoya Tobacconist, operating in Setagaya since 1893, has been a Habanos Specialist-accredited retailer for 20 years.
“Older and younger cigar newcomers keep us busy, indicating an increasing interest in premium cigars, while many retirees are taking up cigars as a hobby,” says Yasunori Amano. Echoing Amano’s point of view, Takeshi Nakanishi, from Kagaya Tobacconist in Shinjuku agrees that cigar smokers are slowly increasing in number. “Grandfathers are bringing their sons and grandsons to the shop and predominantly buying Cuban cigars,” says Nakanishi. Located in the same building where the world-famous Books Kinokuniya began, and with several thousand tobacco and non-tobacco SKUs on-site, Nakanishi’s only lament is a lack of nearby cigar lounges for customers.
Cigar Places in Tokyo
6-9-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Davidoff of Geneva Ginza
Nakajima Shoji Bldg. 1F, 8-5-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Le Connaisseur Ginza
Ginza Kaikan 1F, 8-6-24 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Tokyo Ginza Bldg. B1F, 6-12-2 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Sunroser Daikanyama B1F, 11-6 Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
La Casa del Habano by Cigar Club
2-3-9 Azabudai, Minato-ku, Tokyo
1-25-1 Setagaya, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
5-27-10 Higashigotanda, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo
Kinokuniya Bldg., 3-17-7 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Most hotels offer a lounge bar in which to enjoy a cigar, however the standouts include M Bar at the Sheraton Miyako, Maduro at the Grand Hyatt Roppongi Hills, and Cigar Club at the Westin Ebisu.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Winter Edition 2017. Read more