Surgical Masks: Japan’s Not So Hidden Secret

 (from Kirai)

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? :)


5 thoughts on “Surgical Masks: Japan’s Not So Hidden Secret

  1. Pingback: Mask(ed) Season « oh my omiyage

  2. I started wearing a mask in Southern California a couple of days ago, because after moving here about a year ago, i started to suffer from very dry throat, sticky mucus in dry throat, and dry lungs – can feel dryness in lungs because little expectoration takes place in spite of quitting cigarettes. That’s how dry it is in SoCal, especially now with extreme drought conditions.

    Post-mask wearing – dryness of throat disappeared along with tightness of throat, and sticky mucus because of dry throat seems to have lessened significantly. Also, no more nose, dry mucus membrane bleeding of nose, throat, and lungs (during flu season).

    MASK ON! It should be a new health etiquette.

    • Hi Koolaid!

      I’m so glad that it’s working for you! I know how you feel – LA is super dry. Masks are awesome, aren’t they? I’m sporting one often here in Tokyo now too because it’s extremely dry in the winter here too (and crazy humid in the summer.. but that’s a different complaint! :) )

      Yes – MASK ON! Let’s spread the trend!

  3. I agree with Koolaid. We should spread the trend. I have irritating seasonal allergies. I would love to be able to wear a mask during that time without people staring at me. The masks also tremendously help during flu season by filtering out the germs (as they were intended to stop germs). Let’s learn an idea from Japan…

    • I agree! Actually, I went for a bike ride a month ago when pollen season was in full blast, and I spotted a couple biking with masks on! Maybe it’s the start of something :)

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