I’m sure you’ve seen them.
I’m sure you’ve heard about them.
I have to admit that I was quite shocked when I first came to Japan and saw so many people running around with surgical masks.
In Europe (as well as in most other regions of the world), you probably only wear these as a “normal” person when you’re terminally ill, in a state where catching a cold is fatal.
In Japan (and in some other Asian countries), however, people wear those masks for various reasons.
If you’ve ever wondered why Japanese wear surgical masks, then you should read on.
Reason #1: Being Sick
This is probably the most self-explanatory reason most people can up with on their own.
When you’re sick in Japan, it’s expected that you wear a mask in order to prevent your germs from spreading.
Not being considerate by not wearing a mask is considered to be rude!
If you enter a clinic or hospital in Japan and they’ve confirmed you have a fever, they will actually force you to wear a mask.
If you didn’t bring a mask, they usually sell it to you right there.
Especially when you’re coughing and sneezing a lot, you’re supposed to wear a mask in public.
There are also masks with aroma sheets inside which will help you breathe during nighttime.
This is used in order to cure your cold (faster) and you only wear them when sleeping.
Reason #2: Not Wanting to Get Sick
While it is courtesy to wear a mask when you’re sick, a lot of people don’t.
Especially if you have to ride the packed trains in big cities like Tokyo, it’s extremely easy to catch a cold.
It’s so narrow, that people can’t even cover their mouth or nose, so masks can help to protect you from germs.
Reason #3: Too Lazy for Make-up
In Japan, it’s pretty much common sense that you’re always dressed up and put on make-up as a woman, even if you just go out to the supermarket around the corner.
But sometimes you just don’t feel like putting on make-up or are too lazy. Or maybe a big pimple is annoying you.
Then, the masks come in handy.
Reason #4: Fashion Item
Of course, it wouldn’t be Japan if there were only plain, boring white surgical masks.
In fact, there’s a huge variety in colors, patterns and even functions!
There are masks with nice aromatic flavors or masks where you can insert a wet sheet to cure your stuffed nose overnight.
Some masks have prints of your favorite anime character on it.
And thus, they’re also used as fashion accessory, matching your entire outfit of the day.
Reason #5: Hay Fever
Hay fever is big in Japan. A lot of people are allergic to “sugi” (杉, Japanese cedar tree) or “hinoki” (ヒノキ, Japanese cypress) pollen.
Wearing a mask when you go outside during hay fever season, helps alleviate the symptoms.
Reason #6: Air Pollution
Japan itself doesn’t really struggle that much with air pollution, but sometimes the bad air from China is being blown over – up to the point where you can even SEE it.
Then, it’s also suggested to wear a mask.
There are even masks to protect from PM2.5 specifically.
Reason #7: Dry Air
I swear by Japanese surgical masks when I’m taking a long flight.
The air in airplanes is so insanely dry, but wearing a mask will keep your mucous membrane moisturized.
You might have seen a lot of Asian people wearing masks inside of airplanes. Now you finally know why.
These are the ones that work best for me, sizewise. :)
Reason #8: It Stinks!
Sometimes it smells really bad, especially in packed trains or when you’re surrounded by smokers.
While a mask cannot reduce the smell completely, it certainly helps.
These are just a few reasons why Japanese people would wear a surgical mask.
What do you think about these masks?
Have you worn one before?
When I first moved to Japan and had to wear my first surgical mask (I was sick at work), I hated that feeling.
It was weird and I had the feeling that I couldn’t breathe properly.
However, after almost a decade of living in Japan, I came to love them.
So much, in fact, that I had a hard time NOT wearing them when I was back in Germany.
I actually struggled entering a clinic without wearing a mask.
Reversed culture shock anyone?