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The Mask-Wearing Culture

Ewa Nowogorski

With the novel coronavirus sweeping the world off their feet in the year 2020, people are more conscious than ever of protecting themselves and protecting others from infection. Japanese people have always worn masks for more reasons than the average person. They wear them when sick with the common cold, when cooking, when going outside on a polluted day, when covering a bare face, or to just make themselves feel more secure in general.

But nowadays you will almost never see a person without a mask on the streets. You cannot even step inside most stores without a mask on your face. I was once denied entry during the first day this rule was implemented in Tokyo because I did not normally wear a mask at that point even with the infectious virus spreading like wildfire. I personally believe that it’s a false sense of security you are creating, one that can be dangerous.

But the Japanese take masks very seriously. You will be glared at if you enter an enclosed space with no mask, and some people may even scold you for this. This is especially true when riding the train, where people can be packed like sardines and end up in a position where they are literally breathing down each other’s faces.

However, this is not to say that Japanese people love wearing masks. It is hot and humid here, especially this summer, and people’s faces get super sweaty quickly after wearing a mask for a short while outside, and it can be hard to breathe. A survey of Japanese people on the street showed that most people wear a mask simply because everyone else seems to be wearing one and they don’t want to stand out in the crowd.

Oh yeah, did I mention that the cost of masks has become outrageous? A simple disposable mask will cost at least 200 yen, and reusable ones can be as much as 3000 yen.

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