Why do Japanese people wear surgical masks? It’s not always for health reasons

Why do Japanese people wear surgical masks? It’s not always for health reasons Image: Tumblr

TOKYO —

The number of people you’ll see in Japan wearing surgical masks is pretty surprising. Sure, Japan is a hard working society, and the spread of productivity-sapping sickness is always a concern at schools and workplaces, but that doesn’t seem like reason enough for the proliferation of facial coverings that sometimes has Tokyo offices looking more like an operating room.

Health concerns are only part of the equation, though, as recent studies have revealed multiple reasons people in Japan wear masks that have nothing to do with hygiene.

Until recently, masks were primarily worn by people who had already come down with an illness. If you were feeling under the weather but couldn’t take the day off, common courtesy dictated that you cover your mouth and nose with a mask, so as not to breathe your germs all over you class or office mates or fellow commuters.

Things started changing in 2003, though, when medical supply maker Unicharm released a new type of mask specifically designed for hay fever sufferers. Until that point, most masks had been made of cotton, with an inner pouch into which gauze was placed. After taking off the mask users threw out the gauze, washed the cotton mask for reuse, and restuffed the pocket.

Unicharm’s anti-hay fever masks, though, were made of non-woven material, which was more effective in blocking pollen. They were also completely disposable and could be cheaply bought in bulk. This new type of mask was a game changer, and business research firm Fuji Keizai now says non-woven masks account for 86% of the market today.

The introduction of these cheap, easier-to-use masks also made it more practical to wear one in order to prevent getting sick in the first place. Commuting in Japan often means spending an hour or more pressed up against your fellow passengers on a train or bus, and not everyone has the good manners to put down their smartphone and cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze.

Sales figures show that use of masks has more than tripled over the last decade, with particularly large spikes caused by influenza outbreak fears in 2009 and worries over micro particulate matter following the earthquake and nuclear accident of 2011. Estimates for fiscal year 2013 value Japan’s mask market at 23.9 billion yen.

But as masks provoke less and less surprise, some people are using them for purposes that have nothing to do with physical health.

One 46-year-old mother, who herself wears a mask every day in the winter to prevent getting sick, says her high-school-age daughter wears one for a completely different reason. “She puts on a mask and sticks headphones in her ears so that people won’t bother her. It makes it harder for them to start talking to her.”

Juvenile psychologist Jun Fujikake has made simmilar observations. “When we deal with others, we have to judge whether to do things like smile or show anger,” he explains. “By wearing a mask, you can prevent having to do that. The trend of wearing a mask to prevent directly dealing with other may have roots in the current youth culture in which many of them are more accustomed to communicating indirectly through email and social media.”

But the recent surge in masks’ popularity isn’t entirely the result of a desire to give people the cold shoulder. On the contrary, an increasing number of people are using masks because of their desire for warmth.

Japan gets pretty chilly during the winter. Thankfully, the layered look is definitely in, and as the temperature drops, you can bundle up with tights, undershirts, sweaters, parkas, gloves, scarves, and caps. One thing that’s hard to do, though, is keep your face warm.

Granted, you could always pick up a ski mask at the sporting goods shop, but effectiveness aside, you’re going to get some strange looks wearing one anywhere other than on the slopes. But since Japanese society has already gotten used to people wearing surgical masks outside of the hospital, you can safely put one on to keep your nose and cheeks warm without attracting any attention.

Not only have masks become so commonplace that wearers aren’t seen as unattractive, some people are finding fashion and beauty uses for them. One professional model interviewed by reporters says she often slips on a mask after washing off her makeup at the end of a photo shoot, in order to keep her au naturel face hidden from the public. Even women whose livelihood doesn’t depend on looking their best at all times are finding masks to be a handy for those times when they need to dash out to run errands and don’t feel like spending a half-hour putting on blush and lipstick first.

Some people even see masks as a fashionable accessory. An online search for masuku bijin or “beautiful masked girl” will bring up hundreds of results, and an increasing number of companies are offering masks with floral, polka dot, and even houndstooth patterns, not to mention jet-black ninja-style masks for guys.

There’s even a mask whose seller claims it’ll help you lose weight. Cosmetics maker T-Garden has jumped into the mask arena with its Flavor Mask. Not only does it feature a pretty-in-pink design, each disposable mask comes infused with the scent of raspberry, which T-Garden says will boost your metabolism.

We’re not entirely convinced about the scientific soundness of their promise, and from an armchair psychology viewpoint, it seems like a food-based fragrance is going to do more to ramp up your appetite than your metabolism. Still, like any mask it should help prevent you from passing a cold around, keep your face a little warmer, cut off unwanted social interaction, and preclude the need to wear extensive makeup, none of which is necessarily diminished by its calorie-burning quackery.

Source: Yahoo! Japan

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  • 25

    HaraldBloodaxe

    cut off unwanted social interaction

    I would say this point is probably the clincher, much more so than any spurious claims that masks prevent influenza.

    Think about it: if these things DID stop influenza, why do we have an epidemic here every year, and no less of one than in Europe, where people don't wear them?

    As has been remarked upon by those in the know, the virus is so minuscule it can easily pass between the fibres in a mask. Like water through a fishing net.

    No, in a land where so many are cripplingly shy, this device offers a shield against the scary outside world. For the socially inept, it's like a cloak of invisibility, helping you to hide and live inside your solipsistic cocoon.

    A girl worked in my office l for twelve months, and we never once saw her face, she was never hear to speak above a whispered squeak, and she never once made eye contact with a living soul. A healthy society would fear for her mental health. Here, she was praised for being kawaaiiiiiiiii.

  • 8

    Sensato

    This notion that Japanese people wear surgical masks to prevent others from catching their illnesses — and that this therefore represents one manifestation of Japanese people's ultra-courteous nature — is one of the many well-worn canards people would often tell me when I first came to Japan. I have to admit I bought into the myth before coming to Japan and in my early years here.

    After having lived here for ages I realize this is most often not the reason. Case in point, my significant other wears them firstly because of her obsessive fear of germs, secondly to avoid contact with others, thirdly to cause others to know she is suffering when she truly is feeling under the weather, and finally when there are spikes in cedar pollen or pollution blowing over from China.

  • 7

    titaniumdioxide

    Fashion, health, mental illness, psycological ... whatever the reason is, the mask-making companies are getting $$$$ out of Japan.

  • 2

    avigator

    Another reason, so cameras will not get the full face. They can always claim, "that was not me".

  • 1

    Marilita Fabie-Fujisawa

    Because many are not confident enough to show their faces. They can show they're brand bags, designer clothes and stiletto heels and mismatched ensemble but not their faces.,mind you, this is so true..this is putting aside one that coughs or has a cold. They feel confident enough when their faces are covered. Poor things.

  • 5

    sf2k

    here's hoping motorcycle helmets become popula

  • 9

    Hawkeye

    The answer to the headline is simple. Japanese have issues with self esteem and the arguement about not wanting to spread illness is a cover-up. Colds and flus are no less in the land of the surgically masked as anywhere else.

  • 15

    cleo

    I was talking to my doctor yesterday and mentioned that I'd had flu over Christmas. 'Yes, it's been cold,' he said. '...??' said I. 'Does cold weather give people colds and flu??' 'Not in itself,' says he. 'But when it's cold here the air also gets very dry, and dry air makes it easier for germs and especially viruses to attack your mucus membranes. I suggest you wear a mask outdoors, to keep the area round your mouth and nose moist.'

    So there you have another reason, propagated by doctors. Don't think I'm going to take to wearing a mask, though, I'll just pull my scarf up over my nose.

  • 10

    Paul Lennard Ayon

    Also, it's makes you look like a ninja.

  • 4

    ka_chan

    Major criticism of the article is the writer doesn't explain how the wearing of masks started and when. It is not like surgical mask have been around forever. My understanding is that they showed up related to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Masks were worn all over the world then to prevent getting it since 25% will die. Later, in 1934 ( another flu outbreak) they became of wearable so people wore them to prevent getting sick and sick people wore them to prevent spreading the illness. Today it is still used to help prevent the spread of illness but not so much to preventing getting sick unless you are a healthcare worker. It also used for allergies in the spring and for fashion today. BTW, you may see an explosion of masks if we ever get another pandemic like the 1918 one where some people caught the flu on the train to work and were dead by the time the train got to their stop.

  • -1

    Mocheake

    This place is just plain weird.

  • -2

    Tim_Fox

    A mask as a women's fashion accessory is often a Japanese veil - a tease for men who dream about the cute face underneath it.

  • 6

    Victoria Maude

    There's a high school girl who rides the same train as me in the morning, and in the 6 months that I've ridden the train, I've never once seen the bottom half of her face. I find it kind of worrying that people can get away with never confronting their social problems here, just by putting on a mask. How do young people in other countries where surgical masks aren't worn survive?

  • -5

    Tessa

    I love masks, and I love living in a country where it's socially acceptable - nay, obligatory - to wear them. I wear my masks in pretty much the same way that many Westerners wear sunglasses. Sometimes i wear both at the same time!

  • 11

    Naoki Kumagai

    Since glasses become cloudy by breath, I dislike wearing a mask.

  • 0

    André Moreira

    I used to think masks were quite weird when I came to Japan, and I do have girl classmates who quite often use them. However, I've got quite used to using one as well. I don't know if it protects from influenza or not, but it does give a certain security feeling. Even if it's just a little bit, the probability of getting it should be reduced. Even if the virus is small. Of course it's not perfect. There are no perfect antivirus, lol. Even if you wash your hands during 30 seconds and use alcohol and blablabla, in the end you have to put your hand in the handle of the toilet door to open it, so your are infected again lol xD I think it's part of everyone's common sense, what you should do or not. Well, but if you don't want to worry about those things, there's another thing that the mask protects your face from. Cold xD

  • -4

    Mar044

    adopt this is the west, here in canada people go to work sick, cough and spit everywhere, and spread germs like wildfire, even really sick people in hospitals when I worked security there, didn't wear masks until the whole SARS outbreak, even now most take them off when given one by the nurse.

    I fear the next ourbreak of something, half of us would get sick because nobody wants to wear a cover on their face.

    good on you japan, for thinking of others and helping yourself

  • 5

    Carcharodon

    the air also gets very dry, and dry air makes it easier for germs and especially viruses to attack your mucus membranes

    Very dry? please, Japan is pretty average for "dryness" on the humidity scale most days its still 50-90%, once you have lived in places like Nevada, Arizona, Colorado in winter then you'll really know what "very dry" air is ( its 20-40%). Drugstores stock, nasal saline sprays to keep your nasal passages moist, completely damp laundry can be hung out inside and it'll be bone dry in the morning, You can sweat like crazy and it'll evaporate instantly - now that's very dry Dust mites don't like the very dry, so dust mite allergies are much better in the very dry.

    The make up aspect is pretty huge theses days, lots of early morning commuters - ladies are hiding their lack of a make up with their masks.

  • -1

    Wolfpack

    Might be some sort of cosplay fad.

  • 3

    bicultural

    Harold, nobody wears sunglasses, hoodies, or hats in your country? Anyway, regardless of your interpretation, masks are way more prevalent nowadays due to hay fever. I also suffer from hay fever, and masks help a lot. Hay fever season is pretty much all year, depending on what you are allergic to.

  • 7

    blvtzpk

    It's quite easy to find scientific studies on the Internet that illustrate that these common and garden variety masks serve little or no medical purpose at all.

    If there's anything medical about them, it's the placebo effect in action. By wearing them, some people feel they won't get sick. However, in countries were they wear surgical masks for surgery, the masks are regularly changed, and not worn all day.

    In addition, people expect you to wear them if you start to show symptoms of a upper respiratory throat infection (URTI) or cold - they are convinced that if you aren't wearing one, they will catch what you have, even though the incubation period for cross-infection has passed. The tendency for people in Japan to not take sick leave and come in coughing and spluttering makes the masks seem like something is being done by the 'gaman'-ing worker (who should be at home resting and recovering).

    Which brings me to the other popular myth about gargling. Where I work, a case of flu was reported reecently, and an email was sent out telling people were told to gargle with water frequently as well. Yet again, gargling as a preventative measure is highly spurious as well.

    After 3/11 when they were telling the kiddies to gargle with water after playing outside to prevent radiation exposure I nearly cried.

  • 3

    BluesRee

    Evidence points to masks not being effective, especially when used badly as most people in Japan. People constantly tug at the front of the mask, where presumably the virus is to be found chillaxing. It annoys me as it sets up the way of thinking that people wearing masks are helping prevent diseases and people with a cold who aren't wearing masks are recklessly endangering the health of those about them, despite the fact they are no longer contagious. Why kids wear them I don't know. The number of mask wearing kids I've seen pull them down so they can pick their nose and often consume the bogey afterwards is very high.

  • 3

    Tamarama

    That girl in the pic looks fine in it to me.

    Very fine.

  • 0

    7sky7

    paul ayon

    Also, it's makes you look like a ninja.

    Helps, too, to figure out if there was garllc in the gyoza.

  • 2

    cleo

    Japan is pretty average for "dryness" on the humidity scale most days its still 50-90%

    In summer maybe, in winter my hygrometer struggles to hit 30-40% without the humidifier on. Before you tell me my hygrometer is on the blink, Google is saying the humidity in Tokyo at this moment is 41%.

  • 5

    Lowly

    cleo-

    I never used masks for years, til I got hayfever really bad. Then I started using them for colds too. Fact is, if you feel under the weather, a few drops of water in the mask can really humidify your throat/ nose. You never know why you didn't get a cold-- did it matter you took vitamin c? Does it matter you used a mask? But humidity does feel good.

    However, I do that INSIDE where heaters are too hot and make it dry also. When I go outside, (if that's why I'm wearing the mask) I will take it off to get more fresh air!

  • 3

    cleo

    lowly - Every room in the house that I spend time in has a humidifier going 24/7, so for me at least it's drier outside.

    I really don't like wearing a mask.

  • 0

    siniestro

    After coming to Japan and get used to see so many people wear mask, my only question is how come its always white. Since it has obviously became almost like an accessory to people here, I can't understand how can no one came up with the idea to have them in different colors. Or even in different designs on them. If it already exists then I can't understand why it hasn't become so popular yet. Especially in a society that except of the salary man I've seen them wearing every possible color combination with no hesitation.

  • 2

    sf2k

    Overall it stems from a lack of science and biology understanding outside of cram schools. I think the social need came after, but this of course is just my opinion. As to @Mar044, we didn't wear masks during SARS because it wasn't going to do anything. Actually, people would complain if you did because it created fear. Pro Tip: Science is to live without fear

    Wash your hands. Thanks

    Also Mythbusters showed that if you sneeze into your elbow and not your hands you can stop the spread of germs.

    Cheers

  • -3

    SimondB

    There has to be a market for someone to make a men's scented Shibuya Panties mask.

  • 3

    Qamar

    Alcohol rub on hands after commuting/ touching door handles etc.. and most sickness will be avoided! I admit I end up not touching food or anything before I wash my hands well after commuting ^^;..that's what you get after studying infection control heh ^^;

  • 2

    Eric Jeffries

    Masks don't really prevent colds or flu. 1. Airborn germs escape through the masks when people breathe, and most colds are not caught by airborn germs, but rather by touching. 2. People who wear the masks tend to touch on the masks unconsciously and the germs get on there hands, which they then touch the environment around them which spreads the germs.

  • 3

    Lowly

    cleo,

    well there you are. naruhodo. kafunsho was my game changer, like I said. also, just remembered, when they say to drink lots of liquids, that's partly to keep your throat moist and healthy(er), as much as provide your body with fluid. I believe the mask is doing a similar function.

    siniestro,

    oh, but they do exist. there is pink, there is hello kitty, an pan man, doraemon, and many others. it is mostly aimed at the kids' market, tho, so if you're not around a lot of kids you may not see them. there is some overlap to teenage girls' market, but adults don't usually wear them. I think I've seen plaid too...

  • -1

    Thunderbird

    I love Japanese Culture but simply can't understand this crappy, antisocial, sick culture of wearing a mask almost as part of your daily uniform. Most of folks I know wear mask for apparently no reason, since they wear it every day, as soon as they get into the office. What's disturbing is the fact if you put a neck warmer up until your nose, people will give you strange and even shocked looks, as if you're going to rob them or something. lol Thought once or twice to follow their "trend" when I wasn't on my best mood, but at the end found it too ridiculous to wear the thing.

  • -1

    3RENSHO

    "...my only question is how come its always white.(?)"

    Because of peer pressure.

  • 7

    OneHapa

    The other day I saw an onee-san walking her dog. Kid you not, the dog had a mask on.

  • 1

    Ranger_Miffy2

    I've had university students that I NEVER saw their lower face. I walked up from behind and passed women exquisitely dressed: western and full kimono, to find their appearance completely marred negated by that freaking white mask! I've spent (unfortunately) months in hospitals wherein I observed nurses, doctors, and staff wearing masks, which seemed required, hanging uselessly below their noses. And so on. Face it, folks, it is a FETISH. Just a wish for good luck. Will this inane fad continue forever? I sincerely hope not.

  • 2

    Kurobune

    @siniestro - I saw one years ago, (the mid "80s) with the Rolling Stones' protruding tongue logo on it ! Cracked me up !

  • 0

    pixiepagoda

    Japan is a haven for introverts and people with social anxiety. I think it's lovely there is a place in the world where the society has embraced it to this level.

  • 3

    Thunderbird2

    It doesn't bother me whether people wear masks or not... but I do find it odd that some Japanese people on the planes to and from Japan put a mask on to sleep. Maybe to stop drool?

  • -10

    Tessa

    Japan is a haven for introverts and people with social anxiety. I think it's lovely there is a place in the world where the society has embraced it to this level.

    I think that this is one of the most incredibly perceptive comments that I've read about Japan in my life! Japanese people, basically, don't like other (Japanese) people. Hence the masks, the convenience store automatons, the sour "leave-me-alone" faces on the subways, and yes, even the low birthrate.

  • 7

    Thunderbird2

    I think that this is one of the most incredibly perceptive comments that I've read about Japan in my life! Japanese people, basically, don't like other (Japanese) people. Hence the masks, the convenience store automatons, the sour "leave-me-alone" faces on the subways, and yes, even the low birthrate

    Japanese people I know must be unique then, because they have friends, certainly aren't lifeless machines and don't have sour expressions. Maybe the ones you've come into contact with don't like your superiority complex?

  • 0

    Serrano

    "you could always pick up a ski mask at the sporting goods shop, but effectiveness aside, you’re going to get some strange looks wearing one anywhere other than on the slopes"

    Who cares what anyone else thinks, go ahead and wear the ski mask!

  • 7

    HaraldBloodaxe

    A bloke in my office wears one on his chin. When I asked him why, he said his wife was pregnant and he didn't want her to catch a cold. It is cold weather, you see.

    So I asked if he thought cold weather spontaneously created the cold virus. He did.

    Then I asked if he thought the office was cold. He did. It was 26 degrees. But technically winter, and ipso facto cold.

    So I asked him how his wearing a mask on his chin kept his wife germ-free. His response was "Huhuhuhuhu, soooo deu ne", embarrassed quasi-laughing noise, then he pulled it up onto his nose and shuffled off.

    Two hours later, it was on his chin again.

    He really is a nobhead.

    RangerMiffy - I'm with you. The disease control element of this magic talisman is close to zero. They wear them because other people wear them. A fetish, nothing more. Put one on on a train and you can get near-total isolation, particularly if you match it with a scowl and the obligatory air of wounded exhaustion.

  • 0

    Bear27840

    Alright, now I buy black masks and place the straps behind each ear then I transform into my inself 'NINJA'.

    Actually we just painted our faces with camo paint to blend in with nature.

  • -1

    mrkobayashi

    Harold, nice to know you think of your coworkers as nobheads.

  • 2

    Strangerland

    I don't understand why anyone cares whether other people wear them or not. I don't. My wife does. Other people I know do. My care level one way or the other: 0

  • 4

    Open Minded

    In Japan a facial mask is cute. In Brazil a string is cute. Different habits. Different culture. Different fun.

  • 2

    Cos

    How do young people in other countries where surgical masks aren't worn survive?

    Hoods and burkhas for some. But most wear cars that cover them at 100%.

  • -1

    smithinjapan

    Most of the young people I know who wear them do so to cover up blemishes, though the notion of not wanting attention and/or to talk to people also sounds about right. These masks do not help prevent the spread of, or catching of, colds or flu, but if not constantly touched and adjusted they can prevent a certain amount of pollen intake, and in very try and cold weather provide a certain amount of humidity from trapped exhalation, and a bit of warmth.

  • 0

    Strangerland

    Who cares what anyone else thinks

    You mean other than pretty much everyone?

  • 1

    BertieWooster

    Why do Japanese people wear surgical masks?

    Well, not all of them do.

    I strongly suspect that those who wear surgical masks do so because other Japanese are wearing them.

    in other words, there is no logic behind it.

  • -1

    Deplore

    A healthy society would fear for her mental health. Here, she was praised for being kawaaiiiiiiiii.

    Eh, mid your own business. So long as she got work done, what's it to you? Not everyone is as outgoing as you think, nor is it necessarily a sign of mental health if they are. Humans didn't evolve to live in cities of millions of people packed together.

  • 1

    akoppa

    -Hunny, take off your mask. I want to kiss you. -No, I don't.

  • 0

    NathalieB

    Common courtesy may dictate you cover your nose and mouth but common sense dictates you should stay home. However, in Japan the pressure to perform is unrelenting and if you can let everyone else know you are suffering while you perform, so much the better.

    I did get one great piece of advcie from a doctor once though that might help someone - I had an awful dry tickly cough that was keeping me up all night, and she advised wearing a mask in bed, as the moisture I breathe out will catch on the mask and moisturise new air coming in, soothing my throat. It REALLY worked!

  • -1

    Tahoochi

    I think they should ban them for security reasons.

  • 1

    hikkifan17

    I totally never thought a simple surgical mask could be this handy ehehehe~. The only time I wear one is probably because I am sick or don't want to get something from others.

  • -2

    A.N. Other

    Strange ho so many wear masks, but don't wash their hands. Most Japanese think the washbasin is a spittoon.

  • 3

    Pandabelle

    I started wearing them fairly recently when the kafun is bad, and it really does help.

    Don't knock it until you try it.

  • -3

    Thunderbird

    Did anyone see that CM of a whole family preparing to go out to work/school and the wifey gently helping them to wear their surgical masks? And at the end it shows a picture of them with their freaking masks enjoying their holiday, in the sunny Hawaii! How weird can be that?? Btw if japaneses wearing masks are nothing more than strange, seeing foreigners wearing them is just plain weird! Really seems like somebody with a terminal illness or something. Bet they would never wear them in their home countries, probably ppl would cross the street to avoid them!

  • -3

    HaraldBloodaxe

    Deplore - "So long as she got work done, what's it to you?"

    Well, since you ask, she didn't. She was too crippled with shyness to perform any function whatsoever.

    And Mr Kobayashi - if a man looks like a nobhead, acts like a nobhead and speaks like a nobhead, he is probably a nobhead. His incompetence has caused more than enough problems for my company for him to merit the title.

    Thank you for your entirely irrelevant comment.

  • 1

    Lowly

    Thunderbird,

    I guess you are one of the lucky ones who hasn't gotten kafunsho (pollen allergies) yet. They make a big difference. Until I got allergies, I was like you, looking down on the mask. As for colds, who knows if it is effective, but at some workplaces it is expected, and it's not that big a deal.

  • -2

    technosphere

    @Eiji TakanoFEB. 22, 2014 - 07:46PM JST

    However, I am annoyed that people would wear masks out of shyness. Nobody cares about your stupid face! And besides, it makes you look creepy.

    I guess, nobody in Japan cares about silly comments of South Koreans, Chinese and westerners about surgical masks.

  • -2

    Thunderbird

  • -3

    Hawkeye

    If one person wears a mask, it's maybe odd, if two wear them it's fashion, if three or more wear them and you're not then there must be something wrong with you. Sorta sounds like religion doesn't it.

  • -2

    Pukey2

    Cleo:

    Don't think I'm going to take to wearing a mask, though, I'll just pull my scarf up over my nose.

    That's gross. Snot, bogies and saliva over your scarf the next time you use it? This is the exact reason why I wear masks when riding my bicycle in the winters. I can throw the mask away afterwards. Or perhaps you wash your scarf after each time you use it.

    But anycase, the masks are a godsend when the cold wind is blowing in your face and temperatures are close to freezing.

  • 2

    cleo

    That's gross

    Wow. Why would you imagine I spend my time outside spewing snot, bogies and saliva everywhere? Do you? If so, maybe you should be staying home until you feel better....

    o-daiji-ni. :-)

  • -1

    luap

    I also fell for this courtesy thing in the beginning. Later on I realized the different possible reasons of wearing a mask was, till now I have come up with 10: 1. to avoid catching the flu 2. to hide your face (shy/ugly/anorexia/anxiety) 3. to hide your face (leave me alone) 4. fashion 5. warm 6. allergy 7. to sneeze without holding your hand/arm in front of your mouth so you can continue staring at the keitai 8. to have a barrier that prevents the bad breath from the ojisan to reach the nose 9. adding the smell of roses to the mask, make them feel happy happy I love romance, pink and fairy tales 10. because others tell them to do so/ mama san for instance 11. ?

  • -3

    technosphere

    @luapFEB. 23, 2014 - 07:55PM JST

    I also fell for this courtesy thing in the beginning. Later on I realized the different possible reasons of wearing a mask was

    I would recommend to some western tourists also wear surgical masks in Japan. Because they like to open their mouths, time to time saying 'WOW!" while rambling on streets of Tokyo or Osaka.....it looks out a bit silly, you know....

  • 1

    Open Minded

    Take the Tokyo tube in winter and you feel moving in a hospital. Awful!

  • 0

    Serrano

    "it makes you look like a ninja"

    Hee hee!

  • 0

    Qamar

    My mom recognizes Japanese tourists from the surgical masks (and also the total sun protection array..)

  • -2

    HaraldBloodaxe

    Luap - as anyone who has ever used the Chiyoda line can confirm, courtesy is seldom a deciding factor in this neck of the woods.

    At least if an oyaji is wearing a mask, there's a chance he might keep his fingers out of his nose.

  • 0

    Dukjin Im

    The most important way by which a mask prevents the spread of disease is that it keeps you from touching your nostrils, your face, and mouth with your fingers after you touch all the surfaces around you as you walk around (that stair railing, that seat, the doorknob, etc.).

  • 0

    marcelito

    I dunno maybe its just me , but i often come across oyajis who cough and sneeze and never bother to cover their mouths or turn away. I,d prefer it if they wear a mask instead of spraying their saliva droplets and germs onto the people standing next to them. I have nothing against masks...and if others wear them because they don`t wanna be bothered with makeup or to keep warm in winter - go ahead. I,m used to the masked winter crowds now :)

  • 0

    lostrune2

    This surgical mask article appears every several months here.

    The masks eventually start to smell. Dunno if ya want to be smelly to others.

  • -2

    fishy

    i don't like to wear a mask but i know many of my japanese friends wear it during cold winter especially if you ride a bike or walk to the train station, a mask keeps your face warm. they also wear a mask because they don't want to get sick or give sickness to others.

    people who are saying japanese people wear a mask because they don't like other people or they don't like their faces.. i just roll my eyes..

    i don't like to wear a mask but i don't mind others wearing it :)

  • -3

    Tessa

    After coming to Japan and get used to see so many people wear mask, my only question is how come its always white. Since it has obviously became almost like an accessory to people here, I can't understand how can no one came up with the idea to have them in different colors.

    I'm thrilled to report that scented masks in various pastel shades are becoming popular here, and I am an enthusiastic early adopter. I think that masks, for females at least, are well and truly becoming a fashion accessory here. For those of you who deny that Japanese people (women) wear masks to avoid social contact with other people, then why is the advertising catchphrase "a happiness that only you will appreciate?" A person who wears masks for the sake of others definitely doesn't care about whether her mask is sufficiently fragranced and coloured enough to make herself happy. Get with the times, grannies!

  • 0

    yah00netstar

    I believe the severe cold weather lately makes your skin very dry, and also damages the make up...

  • 0

    Cheryl Legaspi

    Maybe washing hands with soap and water should become a priority, if germs and fear of getting ill is the reason for wearing the mask. Handwashing is the best, cheapest and most proven way to prevent the spread of illness. That's not an opinion folks.

  • 0

    Krowl

    I'm American and have been looking at reusable masks online. The CDC is warning of a measles outbreak and I work around a lot of people who are always coughing. I suppose I'll look weird being the only one wearing a mask but it's gotta start somewhere. xD

  • -1

    musgrave68

    a psychologist might make a distinction about this social phenomenon. wearing a surgical/face mask to: 1) commit a crime = antisocial behavior; 2) to shun others = avoidant behavior...we mistakenly label shy/aloof people as antisocial when they actually are of the avoidant personality type...such a relatively innocuous quirk among the japs that does not warrant me to disparage them but rather begs cultural perspective & empathy...dif'rent strokes for dif'rent folks!

  • 0

    ריקי נאה

    Japanese wearing surgical facemasks usually puzzles me. If it's all about personal hygiene, if I will be walking in d streets of Japan, I'll prefer wearing Slipknot gasmask to be different. lol

  • 0

    TimTran

    I strongly feel that after living here a few years, that it is mostly a social thing. An escape.All I see is people that wear masks to hide from the world. They are afraid. I understand the practical uses, but I don't believe the majority of people wear them for that reason. It's sad.

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