Initially, I thought masks were weird and uncomfortably hot. Like most westerners and travelers to Japan, I avoided anyone wearing a mask as if they had swine flu. There’s such a huge stigma if you wear a mask in the States. In fact, if you ask someone to wear a mask or put on a mask around someone who’s hacking up a storm, it’s considered rude.
After a year here, I’ve come to love Japan’s culture of wearing masks – and overall personal hygiene, actually – and wish that it would catch on in the States. First, let me tell you why people wear surgical masks indoors and outdoors:
- To prevent catching germs from others on the crowded trains and streets
- To prevent spreading your contagious germy germs to others
- To help you get better – it keeps your nose, mouth, and throat moist and hydrated
- Filter the air that you breathe from pollen or other allergens
- It keeps your body amazingly warm in cold outdoor weather
- Hide your face if you had dental work done, a face hickey, or a nasty pimple
I love how the Japanese are so considerate of each other and wear masks to prevent others from getting sick. I’m sure my old coworkers would have appreciated the same consideration when I made all of them sick with the flu a few years back (only the Asians in the office though, which was weird..). Personally, when I sleep with a mask on when I’m sick, you avoid feeling parched like a lost hiker in the Gobi Desert!
So if you visit Japan, remember that anyone wearing a mask is just thinking of your health (whether it be healthy or not). And if you really want an authentic Japanese experience, why not try a mask of your own? :)