The first time I bought a pack of masks in Japan was on day three after moving there. The reason back then was: I was trying to smoke out the mosquitos that had gotten into my apartment (because I foolishly left the balcony door open for 10 minutes) without poisoning myself. (No, it didn’t go so well but it was quite the experience.)
Not long after that, I learnt about all the real reasons why people in Japan wear masks and since they made a lot of sense to me, I joined in soon.
First of all: If you have the common cold or influenza, why should someone else catch it, too? The real question for me isn’t “Why are people in Japan wearing masks?“, but: “Why aren’t you?“ Why would you inflict your illness on others? Not caring if other people get sick is pretty selfish, don’t you think? From what I understand, that’s the main idea behind the masks: Don’t make other people sick. It’s a very simple and logical concept.
And it works the other way, too. If you have a ridiculously bad immune system (like me) and you’re afraid of catching the cold, it makes sense to wear masks to protect yourself. Since I work with children and get sneezed and coughed on a thousand times a day (particularly during the winter months), I really need to wear masks to stay healthy. Luckily my kids don’t have a problem with that. („You don’t looks scary, you look Japanese!“)
Whenever I have a sore throat from either the dry air in the winter, the aircon in the summer or just from a cold, I wear a mask in the daytime and also when I sleep at night. It actually makes the soreness go away much faster because the throat doesn’t dry out even more. Same goes for protecting myself from getting a sore throat on the plane (airplane air = cocktail of germs and bacteria, swirled by the aircon).
Next on the list: If you’ve got nasal allergies, you might want to keep pollen out of your system as much as possible. Sadly, in Japan it’s pollen season pretty much all year around, except for summer. (An that’s when the mosquitos come back! Yay! Anyway.)
In the winter, another reason for wearing masks can also be to just keep your face warm. For me personally, it’s more than that, because cold air in the lungs is one of my asthma triggers and I need to prevent that from happening. So before I leave the house on a cold day, it’s: Jacket on, hat on, scarf on, mask on, out the door.
The last reason I’ve read about and can confirm because I do it, too: On some days, you just want to hide from the world. Some people feel insecure without makeup, for example. I on the other hand want to hide my face on some days when I’m not up for people staring at me because I’m a foreigner. On a normal day I don’t mind it, but when I’m in a bad mood to begin with, I can’t take it so I wear a mask to blend in with the crowd.
Masks are such a normal part of my life now that it baffles me how badly people back in Europe react to them. But that’s a tale for another post.
Conclusion: Masks are practical, multi-functional, and I love them.