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Why do Japanese people wear Masks?

By Yae Oct 27, 2017

This post is also available in: Italian

If you’re a foreigner who lives in Japan or have visited Japan as a tourist, have you ever noticed that quite many Japanese people are wearing sanitary masks in public?
Some of you may feel weird to see people wearing sanitary masks everywhere and may have wondered “So many Japanese people got sick every day?” or “What’s wrong?”

After reading this article, you’ll see the backgrounds and start to think,

“That does make sense!”

Let’s clarify what sanitary masks mean for Japanese people.



1. What is Sanitary Mask Anyway?

Where did the story start?
Originally, Japanese people made masks in Taisho Period (1912-1926) using at the factories for workers protecting themselves from dust. At that time, people called the masks as “Factory Masks” and this was a start of wearing masks in Japan.

Secondly, wearing masks became popular in 1919 when the flu was going around in Japan. Many people tried to buy the masks as “Sanitary Masks”. People suffered from flu in 1934 again and step by step, wearing sanitary masks became more popular and the production of masks increased steadily. The concept of wearing masks was protecting people from viri such as flu, hay fever or other sicknesses at that time so the more meaning as sanitary masks instead of dust masks.



2. What’s the Purpose of Wearing Masks Lately in Japan?

Comparing to the Taisho Period, it seems the masks represent various meanings for Japanese people up to date and the purpose of wearing masks had changed for the following 4 reasons:


1. When People Feel Sick

Japanese people wear sanitary masks when they feel sick or catch a cold. Masks have moisturizing effect for nasal mucosa and oral mucosa provides moisture that helps people not to catch a cold easily or get recovered faster because virus and bacteria love DRY and LOW TEMPERATURE CONDITIONS but hates WET and HOT CONDITIONS.
Wearing sanitary masks also helps not to spread the virus to other people and therefore shows consideration for other people.


2. Protection Against the Virus in Advance

Related to 1, people wear sanitary masks to prevent from catching cold, PM2.5 (Particulate Matter), hay fever or any other virus or bacteria. Especially, in the public train, bus, school, work and other places where are densely populated, Japanese wear masks to secure themselves from getting sick.


3. Part of Fashion Style

Did you know that sanitary masks can be used for fashion style in Japan?
Not all Japanese people like this style, but some people wear sanitary masks for following reasons:

1. Wearing big masks to make people face look small or try to make significant impact for big eyes. Especially Japanese girls are obsessed with having small faces and big eyes like fashion models.

2. Some popular singers or TV talents wear masks and sunglasses to hide their face, and this made the impression for ordinary people as stylish.

3. Sanitary masks can hide the face when not wearing make-up.


4. Avoid Communicating with Other People

Not all Japanese people are having this thought, but this trend was made popular among certain young people. As people spend most of their times for SNS not having real communication face to face, those don’t want to talk with others wear masks to make the impression of reluctant to speak.


3.There’s Wide Variety of Sanitary Masks in Japan


The function of Japanese masks is becoming better with various style such as follows:

1. Masks that don’t hurt ears with special straps.
2. Moisture function masks with herbal or floral fragrance.
3. Washable masks that people can wear same masks many times.
4. Masks printed with flowers, stars, cartoon characters, etc. so they can look more fashionable.

Since wearing masks are being high demand for Japanese people, the challenge for developments of new features for the mask is also stepping forward day by day.


4.What’s the Impression of Mask in Other Countries?

It’s very important to bear in mind for Japanese people that wearing sanitary masks have different meanings in other countries and may cause misunderstanding. Especially in US or Europe, people don’t wear sanitary masks in general because it is only used by bank robbers or suspicious people who try to commit crimes.

What do foreigners do when they get sick or catch cold?
They try to make themselves warm and blow their nose if necessary. They never rely on sanitary masks since they don’t have the common sense for wearing masks even for sickness.


Do you now see why Japanese people often wear sanitary masks in public?
You see Japanese people are wearing masks not for committing crimes but mostly for their health.
I also wear masks when I feel sick, catch cold, when hay fever season starts and winter season when many people start to have cough due to cold and try to protect from virus or bacteria.

If you can’t wear sanitary masks in your home countries with any reasons, please try once in Japan.
Especially when you get sick or catch cold suffering from cough, you’ll get amazed of sanitary masks function and effects.

Try on the excellent function sanitary masks in Japan!