Gotta face? Best mask it.

Gotta face? Best mask it.

The use of face masks across certain parts of Asia are proliferating…especially in Japan. The Japanese penchant for facial cover ups has been steadily gaining traction since the early 20th century.

When the global influenza pandemic of the early twentieth century killed approximately 30 million people, covering ones face with a scarf or veil became a popular choice of protection against germs. Years later, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 filled the sky with smoke and ash negatively impacting air quality for many months, the inhabitants of Yokohama and Tokyo once again donned masks. But it was a second flu epidemic more than a decade later in 1934 that saw the mask become the ubiquitous, oft donned accessory across the country’s urban metropolises.

Japanese culture’s high regard for courtesy to their fellow country persons meant that face masks went on to become a necessary and expected accoutrement — serving to shield others from the sneezes and sniffles caused by allergic reactions to the sharp increase in cedar pollen, as well as offering an albeit minimal, but guard nonetheless, against rapidly rising pollution levels during the industrialising post war era of the 50s. Such considerations neatly folded into the emphasis on sustained productivity, a notable feature of Japanese corporate life; to be seen to be active in preventing the transmission of germs and protecting oneself from possible viral contamination is regarded as an act of utmost politeness.

Whilst the actual effectiveness of wearing masks is disputed, their continued popularity is also attributed to the benefits masks offer to those who suffer from social anxiety, or those wishing not to be seen when looking less than their very best.

The face mask market is now worth $230 million and brand alliances with popular cultural icons mean masking ones face is a trend sure to to stay for some time.


Join Megan for more intriguing adventures in Central Japan.