People in train with face masks

Why Japanese People Like Wearing Face Masks

Even before the pandemic, you could see many people wearing face masks in public, especially in winter, in Japan. There are several reasons why Japanese people wear masks frequently. Most of them usually wear face masks either to prevent getting cold or passing on viruses to other people. Some wear it to keep their faces warm during winter. School girls also like wearing masks because they want to hide their faces to look beautiful without revealing a large face (this is because having a small face is a typical Japanese beauty standard). For whatever reason, wearing a face mask in Japan has been a common occurrence for years.

History of Japanese wearing face masks long before Covid-19

Japan emerged victorious in World War I in November of 1918 annexing the country with various territories in the Pacific including Shandong in China and the islands of Saipan and Tinian.  As Japan basked in unmatched political freedoms during the short-lived “Taisho Democracy”, it also had to go through unparalleled setback with the Spanish flu pandemic.

The Spanish flu pandemic hit Japan in two waves. Deaths from the first wave
spiked at 130,000 that same month. By the time the first wave dwindled, about 38% of Japan’s population, or roughly some 21.16 million people, has been ill with the virus, with 266,000 deaths.

In December of 1919, the second wave of the pandemic hit, peaking a month after in January. A Shikoku newspaper wrote in December that the 20% mortality rate was “unprecedented for an epidemic.” The number of people infected by the virus during the second wave was actually lower than the first wave but the illness proved to be more fatal for a higher percentage for those who contracted the disease.Handmade face mask

Face masks as a norm

With Japan having lost so many people including in Japan-colonized countries like Korea and Taiwan, educational materials were produced urging people to wear masks. Instructions on how to make face masks were also printed in newspapers for citizens. When the SARS virus gripped Asia a few years ago, Japanese people were already accustomed to wearing face masks and the nation did not incur a single fatality from the virus.

In Japan, seeing people wearing face masks is a common sight and at times even thought of a proper etiquette especially when you are sick. There is a saying that history is bound to repeat itself. But it doesn’t mean we don’t learn from it and take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves today and for the years to come.