Sickness prevention face masks: a Japan thing, or a safety thing, or both?

It’s common in Japan – even more in winter – to see people wearing cotton or gauze masks over their faces.

They look like surgical masks, the ones doctors and nurses wear while you’re on the operating table. But not every person in that packed train carriage with you went to med school. So what’s going on here?

There are 2 main reasons people wear these masks in public:

  1. To prevent their own illness from spreading (politeness)
  2. To avoid being infected by anyone else (self-preservation)

(Secret 3rd reason: to hide that they’re not wearing makeup.)

Chances are anyone you spot wearing a mask already feels kinda sick, so give them space. (If you can – rush hour trains don’t have much room to move.) Some people wear them as a way to ‘not get ill’. And ‘ill’ means everything from coughs, colds and the flu, to hayfever and allergies.

Protective face masks are easy to find in shops, cheap, and quick to put on when someone’s coughing into your personal space. It’s not so hard to understand why so many Japanese people always seem to wear them.

Disposable vs. reusable

Most standard packs of plain white medical masks are made for 1 use only. They’re often sold by the box, and can be thrown away at the end of the day. In winter, we can’t go a day without seeing (at least) 1 abandoned mask on the ground…

Your other option, for long-term use and/or more comfort, is a face mask you can wash and wear again. If you ever remember to wash it, that is. People with weak immune systems could get more value – and fewer infections – out of a reusable mask over time.

Stylish face masks

Colds, flu and other illnesses take time to get over – so a mask’s needed for a few days, at least. Why not match them to your outfits? You might feel like death warmed up, but you’ll look fabulous the whole time.

The most common option you’ve got is the same basic cotton/gauze mask, but in ‘girly’ pink. If you want other colours or designs, you’re still spoilt for choice.

From there, your options get even fancier. Make the flu fashionable with a lace-patterned face mask! Or one that’s got fake pearls and sparkles down the sides.

Another option’s a removable fashion cover, to glam up normal disposable masks. Remember to take the mask out before washing! It’s like leaving a tissue in your pocket…

We’ve seen some reusable fashion masks lined with premium Imabari towel material on the inside, for extra comfort. It’ll help keep your face warm, and make you feel cosy.

Healthy face masks

Masks with added health benefits, to protect your throat, lungs, and general wellbeing. Like an extra gauze air filter, or a layer of charcoal. Those help purify the air you’re breathing in, stopping icky germs and bits of dust in their tracks.

A filtering face mask can protect you from more than a long-distance sneeze. They’re worn to combat air pollution, cigarette smoke, and car exhaust fumes.

Is there a downside to breathing cleaner air? Kinda – these masks aren’t washable, unless you can get the filter out first.

Kawaii face masks

Kids get sick, too. And grownups who like cute stuff. They need masks. Well, this is Japan we’re talking about, so kawaii medical mask designs are everywhere.

We’ve tried out Hello Kitty masks, shaped like Kitty-chan’s face with that huge bow on top. (You can just as easily find normal rectangular masks with Sanrio character designs.)

If you wear glasses, you’re gonna find an awkward downside to having Kitty-chan on your face… Kitty-chan’s ears poking into your eyes. Other Sanrio face masks (like My Melody) are less pointy at the edges.

When it’s flu season, take cover

Stay healthy and safe this winter! Face protection masks are 1 way to avoid catching a cold. On DEJAPAN, you can search and see what Japan wears.

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