Japan Does It Better 9: Hygiene Masks

Japanese hygiene maskWhen you are out and about in Japan, it is not uncommon to see people wearing surgical or hygiene masks in public. The first time I saw this, I thought that the people wearing the masks were recovering from serious illnesses and protecting themselves from germs. And while some people do wear the masks for this reason, most are wearing them out of courtesy for others. In Japan, if you have a cold, you sport a hygiene mask so that you don’t spread the germs to your fellow commuters, coworkers and family members. As a frequent rider of the subway in Tokyo, it gave me great comfort to see the hygiene masks on the train, especially during rush hour when I was commuting face-to-face with my fellow passengers!

Do they really work? As far as keeping cold germs in, it seems they do. (Maybe they actually work, or maybe it’s human nature to back away from the ill mask-wearer…) But wearing one for protection isn’t very effective. Naoto is a good example of this. On our flight home from Japan in 2011, he wore a hygiene mask and I didn’t. He was sick for a week.

Naoto has a box of masks in the closet. He wears them around the house when he has a cold so that I don’t get sick. Thankfully, he rarely gets sick and when he does, the mask keeps me safe from his germs. (Knocking on wood…)

So, courtesy with colds…another reason Japan Does It Better!

P.S. When I write these posts, I base them off of my experience with Japan and I do a bit of Googling to see if there is anything interesting to add. My “research” led me down a surgical mask information vortex. (Feel free to click on the links for the full stories.) It turns out that some people wear the masks to avoid social interaction, to disguise the fact that they are not wearing make-up, to disguise the fact that they haven’t shaved and (the best!) to feign a cold so they don’t have to go out drinking with their bosses after work!

And, an NPR story, just for good measure.

For the rest of the JDIB posts, click here.

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