Why Japanese People Wear Masks | 5 Interesting Reasons Behind Japanese Mask Culture

why japanese people wear masks

Ever wondered why Japanese people wear masks all the time in public? While wearing surgical masks has become popular all over the world due to the recent COVID pandemic but this isn’t a new trend in Japan. The Japanese people have been wearing masks in public places way before the coronavirus came into the picture. 

To protect themselves from common allergens and pollution is obviously one of the reasons why Japanese people wear masks. But another reason why Japanese wear masks is also to protect others from any pathogens that the mask wearer might be carrying. 

Let’s explore all the reasons why Japanese people wear masks everywhere!

Why Japanese People Wear Masks

In the Western culture, when someone is seen wearing a mask, it’s often considered that they’re sick but in actuality it’s now just become a part of the Japanese culture. And the reason behind why Japanese people wear masks is more than just for health safety reason, though health is also a major concern behind wearing masks in Japan. Here are 5 reasons why Japanese people wear masks. 

Health is one of the primary reasons why Japanese people wear masks 

If you think that the Japanese wear masks, majorly, to protect themselves from viruses or diseases, that’s not entirely true. A bigger reason is to protect others by preventing the spread of one’s own germs. The Japanese will wear a mask more often if they have even the slightest flu.

The Japanese people are born and brought up in a culture where they are constantly taught to be considerate towards others’ comfort. And wearing a mask to protect the rest of the public is just an extension of that mentality. 

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The Japanese take personal hygiene very seriously. In fact, kids in schools are taught and made aware of this early on. If you walk through the halls of Japanese schools, you’ll see charts and infographics plastered all over the boards advocating the importance of personal hygiene.

Students who volunteered to serve lunch to their classmates at school were requested to wear masks. Wearing masks wasn’t considered rude at all. Moreover, if you’re slightly sick and you’re not wearing a mask, now that’s considered simply disrespectful in Japan!

And plus Japan is a densely populated country. And with so many people all boxed in a small area, risk of spread of diseases is way higher. Which is why they take personal hygiene so seriously.

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Protection from Yellow Dust and pollen 

Masks are also a good way to protect yourself from pollen dust. I have pollen allergy and it gets worse especially during the spring. Pollen particles are quite large so a mask does a fairly good job of filtering it out. 

If you suffer from asthma or have pollen allergies like me then wearing a mask is a good idea. In fact, Japanese news shows that run in the morning hours actually have a particulate matter reading on days it is especially high, warning people to wear masks. 

Women in Japan wear mask when they aren’t wearing makeup 

Apart from health-related reasons as to why Japanese people wear masks there are more simple reasons as well. Some people in Japan also wear masks on days they don’t have the time to wear makeup or simply to cover up some bad acne. You can easily cover up acne scars, pimples, rashes by wearing a mask – I mean, it is a super simple fix. And I’d be lying if I said I haven’t done the same on SEVERAL occasions. 

Some Use Mask As A Fashion Accessory 

The Japanese have been wearing masks for so long that it soon became a fashion accessory! For a lot of people in Japan, wearing a mask has nothing to do with health or pollution – it’s now become a fashion statement. According to a 2011 survey by  News Post Seven, a Japanese news site, 30 out of 100 people in Tokyo said that wearing a mask has nothing to do with protecting themselves against pollution. 

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You’ll see all sorts of high-fashion masks in the market now. Like the 3-D mask that protrudes, these are fashionable and functional at the same time – one stone, two birds – you know what I mean? 

Other than this, there are various themed masks as well. If you like a particular movie or show, you’ll find a mask with the movie’s or show’s themes. Like this Batman-themed face mask for example:

Some people even say that they wear masks because they like the mysterious look it gives them. For some others, it hides half their face so they like wearing a mask.

Whatever the reason, the point is that, more and more people, today, wear masks for fashion-related reasons than health-related reasons. 

Some People in Japan Wear Mask To Avoid interactions

Japanese people, in general, are reserved and very conscious of how they are judged. If you’ve interacted with Japanese people, you’ll notice that most of us are quite shy in nature.

why japanese people wear masks

Social anxiety is also one of the reasons why Japanese people wear masks. It’s a simple way to create a separation between yourself and the rest of society. You can easily pass by someone you know without being recognized and avoid the unnecessary small talk.

This is actually one of the reasons why I wear a mask! 

Over the years, seeing Japanese people wearing surgical masks in public on the streets, in the subway or even at the grocery stores has become a common sight. It has become such a popular trend that not wearing a mask out in the streets in Japan is weird.

Eventually, a potential business opportunity was recognized and fashionable masks with designs or brand logos flooded the market. After which, more than a health safety measure, these masks are considered a fashion accessory. 

Metal fan? You’ll find lot’s of studded black masks

Want a cute look? You can easily pull off the cute Lolita girl look with the adorable pink masks

Or if you’re an anime fan, you’ll also find popular anime-themed masks as well. 

People in Japan Have Been Wearing Masks Way Before The Pandemic COVID-19

People in Japan, were already used to the new norm the rest of the world was adjusting to – wearing a mask all the time. When the Spanish flu hit Japan in the 20th century, Japan saw the death of 390,000 people in the country. Apart from this, Korea and Taiwan saw thousands of deaths too.

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When people understood how the flu spread, the people in Japan were educated to wear masks in order to protect others and themselves from spreading or catching the flu. And for those who couldn’t afford masks, educational materials like newspapers were distributed teaching them how to make a mask at home.

When Japan was faced with the next global pandemic – COVID-19, the people in Japan were already wearing masks. While the rest of the world is still adjusting to wearing masks daily, in Japan it’s a common occurrence. And for than just to protect oneself from the flu.

Where to buy Face Masks in Japan

You buy buy face masks pretty much anywhere in Japan. Visit the closest pharmacy, convenience stores, supermarket, or even stores like Don Quijote. You’ll find masks of all types, colors, and designs. You get it in packs of 5, 10, 15, or more. You’ll get a disposable mask for about (or less than) 80JPY.

Why Japanese People Wear Masks: FAQs

Why are face masks so popular in Japan?

Everybody in Japan wear masks as a common courtesy to avoid spreading of flu or other symptoms like cold and cough. Japanese people have been wearing a mask since the Spanish flu hit the nation in the 20th century. Other reasons why face masks are so popular in Japan are: to avoid allergies, some even wear it to simply cover up their face, or as a fashion accessory. 

Do the Japanese wear masks? 

People in Japan have been wearing masks before COVID-19 hit the world. This culture has been inculcated in the Japanese people since the Spanish flu hit in the 20th century. Since then the Japanese people have continued wearing masks on a day-to-day basis as this helps avoid allergies, spreading of flus and some other communicable diseases. 

Also Read

  1. Why Learning Japanese is Difficult
  2. Why Japanese Don’t Speak English
  3. Why Japan’s Population is Decreasing

Written by Ava Sato

Hiya! I'm the main author of Japan Truly. I love everything Japan and love testing out Japanese products, be it skincare and makeup or gadgets! You'll find reviews of some of the best selling Japanese products (tried and tested) right here!

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