Japanese Surgical Mask Culture

Danny Choo is a guestblogger on Boing Boing. Danny resides in Tokyo, and blogs about life in Japan and Japanese subculture – he also works part time for the empire.



When I first came to Japan, I was shocked to see people wearing surgical masks in public. The first time was when I was on a train. I looked around to see if anybody was looking at the masked middle aged woman but spotted nobody. The only conclusion I came to was that she was a doctor – but she didn’t look like a doctor and even if she was – why on earth was she wearing a surgical mask on the train?!

I soon learned that folks in Japan wear masks for a few reasons…

* They are sick and don’t want their evil germs to infect others.
* They have hay fever and don’t want the evil pollen to affect them.
* They are not sick but don’t want to catch any evil germs from others.
* They have a tooth missing and want to cover it up.
* Their breath smells like a fart and want to diffuse the smell.
* They have no mouth and don’t want people to know that they are from Mars.

The main reason however is the first one – to prevent others from being infected with ones germs. This poor chap in the photo above is being a good citizen and wants to keep his germs to himself – he wears the mask all day until he gets home. And for those who don’t like masks – they choose something like the product below to plug up their nostrils.

I’ve only seen folks wearing masks in Japan – anybody wear surgical masks in your region out n about in public?

Photo taken during my times at Microsoft Japan with more Japanism cultural shenanigans at the Japan Portal.

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