That’s pretty much the visual on your average winter morning commute in Tokyo. As soon as the temperatures drop, trains are overrun by passengers with masks. The flu is a rather serious topic, especially in a city as densely populated as Tokyo, so that lots of measures have to be taken in order to not miss a single 15 hour day at work due to being visited by the influenza virus. Well, I’m not cool like that, so, instead, I started the new year with a plain old cold (the perfect excuse to laze around and catch up on some movies). At least now I finally had the opportunity to be a good foreigner and wear one of those pretty masks outside so that I wouldn’t accidentally share my new year’s gift with unsuspecting passers-by.
The duck still needs some time to grasp the concept of masks, I’m afraid.
So, in order to educate the duck and anyone else who is interested, I put together a few notes and observations on those rather prominent white rectangles:
Masks and colds
Fortunately, I was aware of the commonness of wearing masks in Japan before even thinking about moving to Tokyo. Some others, it seems, are not that lucky as this article about shocked British supermarket shoppers encountering their first group of masked Japanese tourists suggests. To be fair, having worked in a hospital before, I understand the uneasiness those shoppers felt; many are used to seeing masks only in rather serious cases, like super contagious radioactive spider viruses.
In Japan, however, wearing a mask is pretty common and can have many different reasons, like:
- having a cold and being social about it by not exposing the rest of the city to the temporarily disgusting, contagious monster that you are.
- not having a cold but not trusting fellow train passengers or crowd-neighbors to be considerate enough to mask away their germs and viruses.
- just feeling cold. Masks are a perfect means to stay warm outside as they protect your face from cool winds and your breath functions as your personal heater (avoid eating garlic before trying this out).
- suffering from severe hay fever and pollen allergies. After the flu season lots of Japanese go straight over to allergy season – meaning that they can feel like masked superheroes for at least half of the year (or, heck, they can wear a mask every day if they want!).
- keeping your nose and throat from drying out. On my first overnight coach trip I was surprised to see every single person on the bus put on a mask as soon as the lights started to dim. I was the only foreigner on the bus, so at least that didn’t make me stick out more, but I had to ask my friend about it as soon as I had arrived and she told me that this is a common practice to combat the dry air on a bus. I know what I’ll be doing on my next flight (in Japan. Otherwise there might be another supermarket shopper scenario. On a plane).
- being vain but lazy. Admittedly, the wording is a bit extreme and not true for most people. For those who simply feel uncomfortable going outside without makeup, however, wearing a mask is a lazy way to visit the local Konbini for grabbing a few things, like replacement masks, without having to spend any time on making yourself look presentable. A mask makes you look presentable. Or something like that.
- keeping up the mystery. There are people who just wear masks because they think it looks cool. Of course for that you could invest in a cool black or grey specimen.
- a fashion statement.
Those are just a few uses you can get out of a mask. I’m sure there are plenty more. But for those, you can ask your favorite internet search engine.
Well, my cold is almost gone. But I’ll keep up my routine of lemon-ginger tea (my personal secret anti-cold weapon), vitamin C candy and no exercise (ohoho!) just to be sure that this annoying cold is out of my system before I continue living my exciting and adventurous life with the duck in Tokyo (like, we’re super active all the time, really! We run a marathon at least once a day!)
Oh, and also, Happy New Year!
The (now hopefully a bit more educated) duck and me.