There were many things that I didn‘t understand when I arrived in Japan. One question that bothered me in particular was why do Japanese people wear masks all the time? In Switzerland there are obviously also surgical masks. But you don‘t really see them outside of hospitals. But in Japan they‘re everywhere. Why do Japanese people wear masks? Are they all ill? It can’t be that everybody is infected with some deadly illness. There has to be another reason. And that’s what I’m going to talk about in this article.
Why Do Japanese People Wear Masks?
The amount of Japanese people wearing masks is crazy. About 50% of my classmates are wearing masks right now. There are even some wearing a mask every single day. Why? Why do Japanese people wear masks?
To find that out, I did some research, asked friends from school and tried wearing a mask for myself. And there really is more to the surgical mask than you might think.
Japanese People Wear Masks When They Are Ill
They reason I heard most often was that they wear masks because they’re ill. The Japanese are known for taking care of their surroundings and caring for other people (read why). So if they get ill, they will wear a mask, not to infect anybody else.
So does that mean that in Japan everybody’s ill? Obviously it doesn’t. Only because one is wearing a mask that doesn’t mean that he is ill. Actually many Japanese people wear masks without being sick. About 80% said that they’d wear masks without being ill.
So if it’s not because they’re ill, why do they wear masks?
Japanese People Wear Masks Out Of Precaution
Japanese trains are crowded. You will often be so close to a stranger that you can tell what he’s had for breakfast. That said this year there was a massive flu outbreak in Japan. Flu patients hit almost record levels. But in Japan getting ill doesn’t mean that you don’t go to work. And being on a train full of potientally ill people is quite dangerous. So, many people wear masks just out of precaution, not to get infected.
That said, I have never put on a mask and I never cought a cold.
Hay Fever And Pollen
In Japan it’s slowly becoming spring. Which doesn’t only mean cherry blossoms but also pollen. If you have an allergy to pollen, spring can be quite hard. But that’s were the mask comes in handy!
When I went to a convenience store to look at the masks I noticed that those weren’t normal masks. The masks have a filter for pollen! That’s one reason for why many Japanese people wear a mask during the sakura season.
Luckily I’m not allergic to pollen, but if I were I’d be glad to wear a mask.
Masks Against Air Pollution
I go to school every morning by bike. The thing is that I have to drive along a big and busy road. All those cars obviously pollute the air I’m breathing in. And I wouldn’t call that healthy.
According to the World Health Organization every year 4.2 million people die from air pollution. In Japan air pollution isn’t such a problem but that doesn’t mean that the air is good everywhere. What’s especially harmful is doing exercise near busy roads. So, many Japanese people wear masks not to inhale any emmissions.
Maybe I should also put on a mask when going to school.
They Wear Masks Because Of The Cold Weather
Winter in Japan is cold. That’s why they have heated toilet seats. But the toilet isn’t the only place were it’s cold. So you obviously need something to protect you from the cold.
Many of my japanese friends told me that they’re wearing a mask because it prevents your skin from drying out. On top of that, because your breath can’t “escape” the mask, your cheeks stay pleasantly warm. I tried it out for myself and I have to say, they are right. I’d wear masks in Switzerland but sadly people would think I’m mad…
Wearing No Make-Up
I find the next reason rather funny. For me not wearing make-up isn’t that big of a deal, but for (at least some) women it is. So if you don’t feel like putting on make-up, why not simply wear a mask?
60% of my female friends said they’d wear a surgical mask when they didn’t put on make-up. There even was one male that answered he’d wear a mask but I can’t tell how serious he was.
Masks As A Fashion Item
Somehow I find that masks look cool. And the majority of my Swiss friends think so too. There is something to hiding your face, that I can’t really describe in words. Some people in Japan also think that they look good and thus wear a mask as a fashion item as we in the west would wear a pair of sunglasses.
There are various types of masks. People who like K-Pop for example often wear black masks. Then there are cute masks in pink or some with characters on them. One girl of my class seems to know quite a lot about face masks as a fashion item and also recommended me a place to buy masks. I didn’t go there yet but I might in the future.
Summerisation: Why Do Japanese People Wear Masks?
To summerise: There are many different reasons for why Japanese people wear masks. They wear masks when they’re ill but still want to go to work, they wear masks because of the weather (cold, pollen, etc.), some wear masks because they think they look good and some people don’t want to breathe in polluted air. Females on the other hand seem to wear masks when they didn’t put on make-up.
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Would You Wear A Mask?
Tell me in the comments 🙂