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In true January form, the weather is sunny, dry and quite crisp and yet, there is a seemingly never-ending array of people with their faces obscured by surgical masks. Asia notwithstanding, these Japanese face masks are rarely seen outside of hospitals or other medical facilities. However, in Japan everywhere you go, the number of people wearing face masks probably outnumber those without. Generally, one would think the person donning a surgical mask is sick or otherwise contagious, but in Japan that isn’t always the case.
Let’s start with popular non-medical reasons for wearing Japanese face masks. They are especially widespread among teenagers and young adults, who use them for cosmetic reasons, such as concealing a blemish. Some may even go so far as to use them as a fashion accessory. The sheer popularity of face masks can be seen in the many types, colors, styles and even character related offerings available all over Japan. Hello Kitty face masks anyone?
Medical reasons for wearing a face mask can range anywhere from a slight cold “風 – kaze”, the dreaded influenza “インフル – infuru” or even just prevention “予防 – yobou”, but do these masks actually prevent the spread of nasty germs and bacteria?
The common cold is spread through close human contact and is in fact the most common infectious disease affecting mankind. While it seems people do fall ill more frequently in winter, can this really be attributed to the cold weather? Or lack of Japanese face masks?
Let’s take a closer look at the facts. In reality, the cold weather forces people to spend more time inside and within closer confines, allowing easier transmission and infection. In truth, cold virus symptoms can take hold in as little as 16 hours post exposure, but don’t be alarmed! The cold will usually run its course within a week to 10 days, at most.
Masks do, (to an extent) inhibit airborne fluid particles from reaching your respiratory system but of course, there may be some crafty little virus spores that can infiltrate the gauze and paper shield of protection that surrounds your nose and mouth. So, that being said – our advice is to get a flu shot, eat well, maintain your exercise routine and lastly, for the love of all that is healthy – WASH YOUR HANDS!!!!! Actually, can someone pass me the hand sani?
Public health is not the only reason why face masks are so popular in Japan.