We have seen in movies and on television news that Japanese citizens sometimes wear surgical masks. Someone even asked if they belong to some cult, which is a funny notion. Wearing medical masks are actually a Japanese custom and for good reason. Let’s break it down with unmasking.
As a common courtesy to others a Japanese person as well as tourists that prefer to keep to the customs of the country they visit, would wear masks because:
(a) The person wearing the mask is sick and would not want to spread his/her germs around.
(b) The person wearing the mask has allergies and the masks do help people with allergies.
(c) The person wearing the mask’s co-workers or friends is sick, and he or she does not want to get infected.
Wearing a medical mask in Japan is a sign of respect to those around you in sickness and thus there is no reason to feel self-conscious doing so. And if your friends back home think you look weird in all those tourist photos when you were sick, you get to educate them. Hygiene, after all, is always a good thing, is it not?
There are however also another angle that has nothing to do with health issues. A mother, wearing a mask herself once explained in an interview that her daughter puts on a mask and earphones, making it harder for people to talk to her, and they will not bother her. Clearly masks can be used to avoid human interaction, which is sad.
Another reason, which is quite interesting, is that some people wear them to keep their faces warm in winter!!!!! Japan gets quite cold in winter, and it is always handy to have when the temperature drops suddenly and your face is freezing. And it is better than a ski mask otherwise you might just get looks of distrust from people near banks.
People have been seen wearing surgical masks as in the anime Petite Princess Yucie as well as Slam Dunk. And there is also an urban legend that involves a surgical mask on the face, the Kuchsake-onna that is even mentioned in an episode of the anime Detective Conan.
According to the Kuchisake-onna (slit-mouthed woman0 urban legend she is the spirit of a woman that was mutilated by her husband and then returned as a malicious spirit. Interested in the urban legend? Have a read all about her by following this link: http://bit.ly/Kuchisake-onna_Urban_Myth
For more information here is an article on the history of wearing surgical masks in Japan, please read by following this link: http://bit.ly/Surical_Mask_history