Saturday, March 2, 2013
Face Masks: Keeping cooties away since 1897
Have you ever wondered what was up with all those people wearing face masks here in Japan?
Chances are if you're from the United States you're probably familiar with this type of mask mainly being worn by health care professionals or those who are suffering from something very contagious. This type of association can sometimes make those who come to Japan a bit uneasy during their first encounter with a masked stranger.
Before you reach for the hand sanitizer and Lysol the children you should know that face masks like this are common here in Okinawa as well as other parts of Japan. So why do people wear face masks here in Japan? There are two main reasons:
Reason #1: Keeping cooties away
The first reason that people might wear a face mask is to keep themselves from catching a cold. This might mean wearing a mask in crowded places like a train station, on a bus or even on a plane. You may also find people wearing face masks in areas where there are bound to be a lot of people including tourists such as Tokyo Disney Land or Kokusai Street. You may also find others, such as those working in department stores, wearing these types of masks due to the number of people they come in contact with on a regular day basis.
Reason #2: Preventing you from catching cooties
Another reason that some people like wearing a face mask is to prevent others from catching their cold. Unlike in the United States just because someone is wearing a face mask due to a cold doesn't mean that they are severely ill nor does it mean that they are necessarily contagious. In face some people will even wear a face mask when suffering from seasonal allergies.
To wear a mask or not to wear a mask . . . . that is the question.
Although wearing a mask is common and obviously acceptable practice here in Japan there really isn't any set rule as to whether you should wear one or not. It all comes down to what you want to do (unless your doctor says you should). This being said there are times when one might be considered rude for not wearing a mask. For example, if you are visibly sick and coughing it is courteous to wear a mask or simply stay home. It is also considered courteous to wear a mask in the doctor's waiting room if you are going in for something that might be contagious.
Where can you get 'em?
Masks are available pretty much everywhere and fit every budget. Basic masks like the one I am wearing in the pictures above come in boxes and you can get 100 for only about 200 or 300 yen. You can also get specialized masks which are designed to help clear up congested noses or others which have fun characters on them making the mask more desirable for children to wear. Overall the cost is so affordable that you can't got wrong having some around.
Go ahead. . . give it a try!
Although it might seem strange at first wearing a face mask can be a great way to prevent yourself from catching what's going around, especially if you're new to Japan and don't quite have your immune system acclimated. So next cold and flu season do like a dental hygienist and grab for that face mask!