This week’s guest post comes from Lisa, a personal friend and the mind behind ichigoichielove (which is great, by the way). She writes:
There are many things I do in Japan that I wouldn’t do elsewhere (at least not without feeling like a total freak)—and one of those is wearing a surgical mask in public. I often get asked why Japanese people wear them, as in most Western countries wearing a mask like that either means you’re a surgeon about to operate, a dentist, or you’re highly infectious and anyone who comes within a meter of you will contract whatever it is you have, and will die.
I jest, mostly. Ahem.
Anyway, personally I find them very useful for a number of reasons, and have compiled them here:
- No make up? No problem!
The number one reason I wear a mask is to cover my face, usually if I can’t be bothered to wear make up.
Whether it’s just because I’m going on a quick errand and can’t be bothered, or I overslept in the morning and don’t want to risk being late, it’s handy because I don’t have to worry about looking pale and pasty, or if I have a zit!
(I do often brush on some mascara and maybe eye shadow if I feel I want to look more presentable though.)
- Anonymity (or at least the illusion of it!)
Since the mask covers my face, I’m at least not instantly recognizable. Or at least I feel that way.
My blonde hair often gives me away, but wearing a hat can fix that. Sometimes if I’m just on an errand I don’t want to have to stop and talk to everyone I know, it lets me slip by without being noticed—at least not in time to catch me!
I never recognize friends wearing masks—at least not at first sight, so I pretend it works for me too. Extra bonus for some people who dress up: the possibility of looking like a celebrity trying to hide from the crowds!
- Sense of Distance
I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel that I don’t look as approachable when I’m wearing a mask and I’m more free to do as I please without having to worry about people talking to me.
It’s similar to the anonymity point above, but a little bit different. This one is more about not having to deal with superfluous contact/conversation with random people when I’m perhaps not in the best mood.
I often take my mask off when I do talk to people (unless I’m actually sick!) because I feel strange if I’m not showing my face. Weird? Probably!
- Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!
Especially in summer and winter when the air con and heaters are on full blast, my skin, nostrils and throat get really dry.
One way to prevent that is by wearing a mask! A couple of my friends wear masks while sleeping for the same reason, but that feels a little bit uncomfortable for me. I do, however, always wear a mask when I’m traveling—especially on long flights—and have found it to be really helpful in preventing my throat from getting super dry in the air cabin.
- Portable Face Heater
In winter, it helps keep my face warm.
Scarves slide down and can get too warm at the back of my neck, which irritates me. Or they’re scratchy and annoying. A mask helps shield against wind, and also stays warm because of your exhales. Most importantly it keeps your nose warm! I haven’t found anything else that works as well.
- Actual Protection
I know that many expats are cynical about surgical masks proving any real protection against onslaughts of pollen and viruses, but I think they’re helpful.
Even if it’s only when someone sneezes or coughs without covering their mouth, it’s comforting to have a layer (or two if they’re wearing one as well) of something between you and the bacteria they’re sending out towards you.
Eww. Also, I have really bad hay fever in the spring, and it does help—by limiting the amount of pollen I’m breathing in, I don’t feel as bad, and I don’t have to take strong medication for it.
- Everyone else is doing it
I’m not going to say I bow down to peer pressure on this, but at least I don’t look like a random weirdo wearing a surgical mask—because a lot of other people are wearing them too, sometimes for the same reasons I’ve listed above.
I know this list is a little bit quirky, and surgical masks aren’t for everyone, but it’s a little insight into why I (and why lots of Japanese people) wear them.
How about you, have you ever worn one? Would you ever wear one?
Lisa, also known as Ri, is a globetrotting freelance writer with a passion for music, reading and puppies. Currently living in Tokyo with her Japanese husband, who adds his two yen to their mutually run blog, Ichigoichielove—his posts are usually about ramen.
She also works on the trickrock webzine, featuring Japanese alternative bands.