Wearing masks is common in Japan.
From news broadcasts to popular media, if you’ve ever watched or read up on modern Japan, you’ll likely already be aware of the phenomenon of the surgical mask. Especially in large cities like Tokyo, face masks are a mainstay alongside an umbrella and briefcase for the commute! Anyone, from young children through to the elderly, can be found wearing this fairly innocuous masks when out in public – but what’s the reason behind covering your face? Is it cultural, or just common sense?
Read on to find out more about why Japanese people surgical masks, what it means, and why you might want to consider investing in a few yourself for your travels:
Why Japanese people wear surgical masks?
The most common and best-known reason that people in Japan wear surgical masks is for health – both for individuals and the people around them. We’ve all been on public transport where someone is coughing and sneezing all over the place, potentially spreading germs at a rapid rate. Japan uses masks as an extra degree of protection, both for those who are sick and those who don’t want to become infected. By covering the mouth and nose, there’s less chance of becoming infected by an illness, something that’s especially vital when it comes to crowded commuter trains and big city living.
Alongside health reasons, there are a host of other, less-known ways that masks are used in Japanese culture. For the younger generation, masks can be used both as a fashion statement – with many unique designs available – and as a way to add a higher degree of separation from the world. Dust and pollen are also a concern for many Japanese residents, and surgical masks can prevent these particles from entering the lungs of those with hay fever or asthma. Masks can even be used to cover up on days that you have a particularly giant zit, making them an excellent multi-purpose solution to daily Japanese life.
How surgical masks help to protect people?
As mentioned above, surgical masks can protect people both from getting coughs, colds, and more extreme illnesses from other people. Masks also provide a degree of protection to the outer world if you happen to have the sniffles or a touch of the flu. Alongside these fairly typical forms of protection from daily illnesses, surgical masks can also offer protection against dusty and dirty environments, similar to how they may be used on construction sites in other countries.
Masks also offer protection for those with illnesses and auto-immune diseases. Similar to how vaccinations provide both immediate protection and herd immunity, masks offer the same thing in smaller doses. Wearing a mask when you’re ill can prevent serious illness for a sick child, for example, and that child is also wearing a mask doubles the level of protection.
Masks as Japanese fashion statements!?
Alongside the more serious side of face mask use, masks can also be an excellent fashion statement that serves a dual purpose. As Japanese parents are big on their children staying healthy and being protected, it’s no surprise that more on-trend, fashionable, and ‘kawaii’ masks are available on the market than ever before. Masks are also prevalent in anime and popular Japanese culture, especially in several sub-genres. Styles include frilly masks for Lolita fashion and anime print masks for fans of particular shows.
3D masks are another popular option in Japan that offer different shapes and styles that alter the look of the face. This can be a cutesy accessory or the ideal addition for someone who is into Metal fashion – there’s a little bit of everything out there. Known as ‘rittai masuku,’ these masks are designed more for style than function, but in many cases, even the most fashion-conscious Japanese trend followers will default to typical surgical masks should they fall ill.
Wear masks at all times!
There is a range of reasons why someone might choose to wear a mask at all times when they’re outside. For those more paranoid about their health, a mask is an easy to use and practical way to reduce sickness. For individuals that have severe or chronic illnesses, masks can allow them to go out into the world with less of a chance of catching something. On occasion, masks can be worn at all times due to the anxieties or self-esteem of an individual; it offers a socially-acceptable way to hide and not be so easily seen.
If you’re planning to visit Japan, or you’re just enthusiastic about the culture, it’s essential to know the social rules surrounding these masks. In essence, you’re better wearing one than not, especially around pollen season and during the winter months where colds and flu are at an all-time high. Surgical masks are stocked in thousands of Japanese stores, from small corner shops to vending machines and even their equivalent of the dollar store – so there are plenty of options to choose from for any budget.