The face mask is a common site living in Japan through both the winter months and through hayfever season. Your initial reaction may be to run when you see someone wearing the mask in case they might pass on to you whatever illness they are hiding behind the mask, or maybe its just a flashback to a bad dentist or doctors trip.
Once you start to realize that most of the mask-wearers may actually be the healthy ones and the guy coughing in the corner without the mask is more likely to give you the flu, you get chance to study the different types of masks. I thought I had seen a lot of them, but it was only when I picked up the latest copy of DIME that I realized just how many types there were.
DIME Review of masks
DIME have done a quick review of the 27 different types of masks available for sale in Japan. They have split them up into 3 basic categories.
- Masks focused on ones image
- Masks focused on functionality
- Professional masks
The following is a snapshot of the article from DIME giving an overview. For more detail (in Japanese) you can take a look at DIME 05, 2009 3 3 edition.
The fashionable masks
In the first category, the comment is
even when wearing a mask one wants to look fashionable.
Well, nice try, but the mask on the face as a fashion statement might be a tough sell. Still, lets have a look at why they are considered fashionable. As the mask designs have developed, the manufacturers focusing on the fashionable category have worked on given more of a 3D or raised mask shape to the mask. This makes it look less like someone has strapped a packet of tissues across your nose with elastic bands.
Also in the fashionable category are the masks that don’t smear your makeup and allow you to wash off your makeup easily from the mask if it gets dirty. As well there are masks which are said to be kinder to delicate skin and masks that allow you to leave them on for longer periods of time without causing crease lines on your face.
Focus on Functionality Masks
As well as helping to protect you from the spread of flu, colds and hayfever, these masks also take into account features such as protecting you from dryness of air, fresh aromatic oils and menthol sheets in the masks to entice you to buy them. When I was looking at the people wearing masks at Shibuya station I really had not thought about which one might be wearing the menthol mask and which one had the “keep my skin from getting dry” mask on!
Some of the masks come with refills for the aromatic oils and menthol strips. Others in this category specifically point out that they combat influenza virus etc, whilst some focus on areas such as, making sure your glasses don’t steam up when you wear the mask. With the stakes high everyone has to find their niche.
Professional Focus Masks
This category should definitely not be worn on the train. They start to resemble something you might see in a movie where the body count is climbing. The mouth/nose area tends to have a plastic breathing filter and definitely does not look friendly. Compared to this category, the fashionable masks look very trendy.
Designer Masks, Original for you
One make of masks did look more fashionable than the rest. It was billed as a “Mask with decoration”. It allows you to put on a design seal and rhinestone to make the mask an original for you. The main purpose of the mask appears to be protection from hayfever. The Japanese name for this mask is “DecoriMask”.
Also in this picture, on the left, you can see the product called Nose Mask Pit sold by Bio International. This is a filter inserted into the nose. The copy says
When you get used to the strange sensation you feel in the beginning, you really don’t mind it so much.
I don’t think this one is for me!
Next time you are out, check out the masks at the station and see if you can figure out who is wearing what.
Very interesting post! I like how the Japanese make such a fashion statement from such a fundamentally unattractive thing; like people wearing masks with drawings, interesting patterns and etc. I once even saw a mask that looked like it was made of cloth, with a satin finish.
Did you try the nose mask pit? Apart from the strange sensation they mention, can you actually breath well with it?
I’d like to try it 😀
I agree very interesting post – do the Chinese also wear masks when they have colds or is this a phenomenon in Japan only – Interesting also that they havent got masks with anime on them for the kids – in a country so influenced by anime – maybe they do – can you let me know?
It’s the first time I commented here and I should say that you give genuine, and quality information for bloggers! Great job.
p.s. You have an awesome template for your blog. Where have you got it from?
Thanks for your comment. The template is a mix between a number of different themes. Combining the Misty Theme with its lines, the magazine style content layout from Mimbo Theme and ideas from other themes I have implemented. I am looking to make a few changes shortly that will lay the content out a bit more for first time users to make it easy to find things.
I wear these sometimes even when I’m not sick. I hate riding on a train full of stinky old men.
There has been some talk of cyclists wearing masks when training to help with the pollution in the traffic – do these masks help with the pollution in Tokyo?
There are masks that help with pollen yes. Some of those are covered in the DIME article.
I wish the Japanese custom of surgical masks would come over to the West. I wear one to fight the pollen when I'm doing yard work, but if I were to wear it out in public people would think I was going to rob them!
Good point. A bit like wearing a motorbike helmet when entering a bank. People might get the wrong idea 😉
LOL, By the look of your icon gravatar you already have the face mask situation covered. 🙂
The beauty of Japanese masks is that there is so much choice in the stores. People don't so much look at you because you have a mask on, but because they are checking out the style of your mask.
When I worked in Walmart a few years back, there was a gentleman who wore a surgical mask shopping because he was allergic to a good deal of the perfume's people used. It seemed strange to me at the time, and I was a little worried about him being seriously ill and myself getting it. Now I'm trying to find a fashionable one to wear on my walks home to prevent the inhilation of gnats after the rain.
LOL. It is hard to know whether the person behind the mask is hiding something 😉
I've just found this site now. I really like it, it's so interesting. ^.^ Face masks actually are pretty fashionable, at least in America, in some of the goth subcultures. Surround yourself with some cyber-goths and I guarantee you half of them are wearing face masks. (Usually heavily, heavily decorated.) I don't know if they're actually functional… they'd probably just cause some oxygen deprivation. May I post a picture here? Or a link to one? (or you can just google search "cyber goth mask")
Glad you like the site. Feel free to post a link if you want. I'm sure others will appreciate the info. 🙂
Here's a place where you actually shop for them– http://mtcoffinz.com/ (Click "Cyber Masks")
Advertised as, "These Surgical Masks are an easy way to make your night out more memorable. They are cut and fitted to be comfortable on your face. Each mask stays in place with two small elastic bands that wrap behind your ears.
You are going to stand out the next time you hit the clubs, everyone will be dying to talk to you! They will fit everyone, in all shapes and sizes. "