Whether young or old, male or female, a professional or a student, wearing a procedure (or medical) mask is incredibly common in Japan. In fact it is impossible to leave our apartment without bumping into someone wearing a white mask covering both their nose and mouth. Although it came as quite a shock in the beginning of my trip, I became completely desensitized to the issue after only a few weeks. Rather than playing the ignorant card and coming home with koodies, I thought it best to research a little about why they wear the mask before assuming it wasn't for me. I decided to do some checking around online for answers.
I started with a simple search on Google. I typed in: Why do Jap...? I only managed to type the first few letters of 'Japanese', before the first popular search appeared: why do Japanese people have bad teeth? It's true, there are some real "vampire fangs" (as my neighbor says) around Japan. I've also seen a few sets of teeth that look like a small bomb went off inside their mouth. My personal favorite is the set of pearly whites that has about 8 total teeth, each one literally prutruding in a different direction. In David Sedaris's short story titled "The Smoking Section", he includes his observation of teeth in Tokyo, "People looked as if they'd been chewing on rusty bolts." Am I to assume that all people wearing the mask have bad teeth? I suppose that could be why they wear the mask. But their must be something more to it.
There were countless opinions about this subject on the internet. The most credible opinion I found was in an article from Rocket News 24 dated just a few months ago:
There are a few reasons for this, the most common being that they are sick and are wearing a mask to keep their nasty germs to themselves in consideration of those around them. Likewise, many people also wear a mask to guard themselves from whatever illness is going around. Others use it vainly to shield their faces from the onslaught of cedar pollen that descends upon the masses every spring.
Those who wear a mask for these reasons sound like pretty considerate people to me. A bit further into the article something else caught my attention, the top five reasons people not afraid of catching or spreading an illness choose to wear the mask:
1. They’re not wearing any makeup and want to hide their face
2. To keep their face warm
3. To make their face look small
4. It comforts them
5. To keep their throat from drying while sleeping
I recommend skimming the entire article, as it only takes a minute and offers a bit more insight into the psychology behind why people wear the mask. I had some trouble creating the direct link, so you'll have to copy and paste. Sorry!
In most big cities in Japan it's quite common to see people handing out certain free goods on the street. The more common hand outs include: wet wipes to clean your hands, adds for deals on singing kareoke, tissues (always accept the tissue because it's rare to find toilet paper in the bathrooms!), and masks. Most of the time I pass on the free goods, but a few days ago I decided to accept a mask and see what all the fuss was about. It looked something like this:
Just kidding. Here's a picture of what the mask really looked like:
I was reluctant to wear it at first. However, after seeing so many people around town wearing them I figured there must be something to this. I decided to give it a try around the apartment, in the middle of my comfort zone. Life around the apartment was pretty smooth with the mask at first. Maybe I breathed easier, or perhaps I felt more responsible and healthy for having put it on. After a short time I even forgot I was wearing it. All that said, it didn't take long for me to realize that some things just weren't the same as life without the mask:
No matter how hard I tried to act normal, it just didn't feel right.
In the end, I decided the mask wasn't for me. Having said that the rest of my trip will be spent strolling around with my face naked to all of Japan.
Before publishing this entry I did my usual final review to make sure things were copasetic. I thought my moral compus was a bit off center...like maybe I was unfairly judging the Japanese by pointing out the gaps in their genetic makeup. But i'm also a strong believer in making fun of other people, especially since i'm more than willing to make fun of myself. Let it be known, my mouth is loaded with cavities and i'm a regular coffee drinker. I'm sure you can imagine what the inside of this pie hole looks like. In another effort to be diplomatic and create a little equilibrium internationally, I thought it best to do a quick search about Americans. I opened a fresh Google page and typed: Why are Amer...? The most popular search that came up immidiately set my mind at ease. Any guesses? If you said, "Why are Americans so fat?", you would be wrong. That was the 2nd most common search. The most popular search was, "Why are American's so stupid?" Alas, some form of poetic justice after all.
Here's one more nugget for you:
Thanks for taking a minute to check out life in Japan. I hope you smiled while reading this entry, I certainly did. Be well!