For first time visitors to Japan, seeing people out and about in surgical masks can be a bit confusing. Are they germaphobes? Do they have really bad allergies? Do they have some sort of awful incurable disease that requires them to wear a mask to prevent the spread of infection? Oh, God! Should I be wearing one too!?

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of exaggeration. But for those unfamiliar with the way things are done in Japan, the whole surgical masks being worn in public thing can be kind of strange and unfamiliar. So why do they do it, anyway?

They’re Sick

By far the most common reason people in Japan wear surgical masks out in public is because they’re sick. Chances are it’s not some life threatening, dangerous and debilitating illness – they’re just wearing the mask to be considerate of others and to help contain the spread of germs. Just think about how many people cough or sneeze into their hands and then go on to touch the things we use every day. Door handles, guard rails, the poles and rings you hold onto on the subway. People touch a lot of stuff.

These surgical masks really help as far as containing germs and preventing the spread of contagious colds and illnesses. And people aren’t going to avoid you like the plague if you happen to be in a mask either. They’ll be more likely to avoid you if you aren’t wearing one (if you’re coughing up a storm that is). In most cases, you’ll be treated just like anyone else not wearing a mask.

When I was in Japan, one of our friends got sick on the trip but was still coming out with us and going to the local college and everything. The Japanese girls encouraged her to get a mask and wear it when she was socializing. She didn’t seem too keen on the idea and saw it as an inconvenience, and the Japanese girls seemed kind of disappointed in her when she wasn’t wearing it. They thought it was inconsiderate.

So if you’re in Japan and you get a cold or a bad cough, don’t be surprised if one of your Japanese friends asks you to get a mask to wear and definitely don’t be afraid to do so. I wish more people in the United States did this, especially those in schools (those illnesses spread like crazy).

Occasionally you’ll have somebody who’s pretty into Japanese culture wear a mask like this when they get sick, but because it’s not the social convention here in America, they usually (and unfortunately) end up looking kind of silly, even if their mask is quite fashionable.

Everyone Around them is Sick

Another reason you’ll see Japanese people wearing masks out in public is because they’re afraid of getting whatever illness that happens to be going around. Maybe it’s flu season or something and they’re just trying to avoid getting sick for the third year in a row because the hand sanitizer alone just isn’t cutting it.

It makes sense when you think about it. I mean, I usually come down with something near the start of summer (I’m actually getting over a cold right now) and I usually get sick again near the start of winter. Maybe if I wore a mask around these times I would be less likely to fall under the weather or avoid the illness altogether.

But like I said before, it’s not the social convention here in America and I’d look kind of silly coming into the office in the morning wearing a surgical mask. Oh well, NyQuil and Sudafed to the rescue once again.

They Have Bad Allergies

On the whole, wearing masks because of allergies isn’t as common as wearing one because of illness, but around hay fever season in Japan mask wearing out in public becomes a much more common sight. I touched on it in a post I wrote a while back about Hay Fever Hell in Japan, but along with masks, the Japanese have a lot of things around to combat allergies and you’ll definitely see a surge of mask wearers out in public during allergy season.

They’re a Bosozoku Bike Gang Member

If you see a bike gang member in Japan I’m sure that their surgical mask is not going to be what gives them away. But it is not unusual for a bosozoku member to wear a mask like this for no other reason than concealing their face. Most likely they aren’t wearing it for allergies or germ prevention (unless of course they are a very kind, caring, and socially considerate bosozoku).

And if you want to learn more about these folks, you can read all about ’em in a post I did a while back entitled Violent Japanese Biker Gangs Just Not What They Used To Be.

They’re Too Embarrassed to Show Their Face on YouTube

Okay, so this isn’t technically in public, but you still see it a lot (if you’re on YouTube a lot and wander to the stranger corners of it like I tend to do sometimes). This one mostly applies to the ladies from what I’ve seen, but there are a lot of videos of Japanese gals doing some sort of choreographed dance or playing an instrument on YouTube/Nico Nico Douga. A lot of these girls are shy and will wear a mask like these to hide their face/identity.

Since I can’t actually ask them why they choose to do it, I can only guess. Perhaps they are shy. Perhaps they think they are unattractive. Or perhaps they think they are too attractive and want their dancing/instrumental skills to be judged honestly, not wanting to be complimented just because the audience thinks they’re hawt. See examples below.

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And now you know pretty much all the reasons why you might see someone in Japan wearing a surgical mask. It’s not a weird or strange thing to do and most often they’re just looking out for the well being of others or trying to protect themselves from a seasonal illness or pollen invasion.

But what do you guys think about the wearing of masks like this? Wish you could wear one in your home country but are afraid of the social stigma? Have you ever done it in a Western country and got strange looks from others? Let us know in the comments!

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  • nagz

    i always thought it’s because they are paralyzed in fear of famous viruses, but turns out, they are just considerate towards others. well played, Japan, well played.

  • nagz

    besides, no one told them these coughy-sorethroaty-sneezy illnesses are contagious only for 2-3 days, in the incubation session (days before the symptoms start)? considering this, the masks are pretty much raincoat-after-storm.

  • Guest

    so instead of dispelling the germs from your body (which is what coughing and sneezing are for) you are forced to walk around in it longer, prolonging your own ailment? Those masks don’t really help in my experience. I lived in Japan for 2 years, and I wore one to be polite around other people, but I saw absolutely no benefit. people still get sick with or without them, they don’t seem to make any significant dent in curbing illness.

  • Indre

    hey, that “30 days speed shred” girl is definitely a DUDE. Look at “her” hands. I think this is the main reason why he’s wearing a mask ;-)

  • otakutears

    yeah im a germaphobe and really wish i could wear a mask when i go to work or on the bus..  i’m super aware of how dirty things are and will make an effort to not touch hand rails at all.  it sucks that its not socially acceptable to hide your face like that in north america… PEOPLE JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW DIRTY THE WORLD IS IT IS DISGUSTING COME ON 

  • HelloNamie

    So, in order to not “prolong” your own ailment, you have to go around spraying it on others? The masks probably work for the same reason that we tell people to turn their face away and cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze. It also helps with people not spreading germs and dirt all over public surfaces like door knobs, payphones, etc.

    Manners! They are nice things to have!

  • nakiami

    I actually took some when I was in the hospital one time. Where I wore one to school and my classmates thought it was cool. Where I brought extras with me I was being considerate by giving some to them.

  • Anon

    It’s definitely a fashion thing as well..  Especially with hot girls…  It makes them look kawaii.

  • マリ

    me and my friend were wearing face masks in Austria when we went to University together by bus. We just came back from Japan at this time and we were kinda sick too. We did it for fun but also had a bit of a reason :) the effect we got was almost a whole bus only for us and a lot of weird stares. They avoided us like we had a uncurable disease hahahaa and we were just laughing our ass off. That’s probably what they thought what our problem was, some crazy psychological problem :D

  • niyoels

    I really wish it wasn’t so strange to wear masks in the west. In the winter I was constantly sick but I’m not going to stay home all winter! Even if I was sure I wasn’t contagious any more, the symptoms would make people wary. If I could wear a mask during those times (and it was accepted) not only is it considerate of others but also allows one to go about their usual business without being crippled by that gosh darn cold that just won’t go away!

  • Asianbeat Fukuoka

    I enjoy wearing masks when I wear no make-up! So convenient :D
    Hope I can do it in other countries.

  • Kamizushi Akinari

    I wear a mask when I’m sick and I live in Canada. I’m not gonna make others sick just because they think being considerate to others make me a weirdo. Furthermore, the more people decide to do it, the more normal it’s going to become.

  • Axel Eriksson

    Nice, Maximum the Hormone! :D

  • John

    Haha, yeah, definitely.

  • Hashi

    I’m glad that you finally answered the call of teachers everywhere and brought enough for everybody.

  • Leliel

    Unfortunately, even though it’s considerate to others — it’s not good for you. Germs breed within the mask and you can end up getting even sicker or staying sick for longer. So better in one respect, bad in another :/

  • Spritz05

    Unfortunately, the masks don’t work nearly as well (or at all) when they get wet, which can be after only a short time of wearing them (sneezing, breathing on them for extended periods, etc). After they get wet they need to be changed. Also you need to get the special respirator masks to be effective against small particles like viruses.

  • Aya

    I wish people in America would wear masks too, especially in school settings! I think in the first and third video they’re actually men. I think it’s a fetish trend. Makeup does wonders but the hands are too masculine. This is one of the few men that actually doesn’t care to show his face:

  • Wyhodujmy Motyle

    I’m more in to bandanas, cause it looks a little less strange in Poland, I’m from beach city where winter is very strong so few people use to hide their faces behind scarfs and bandanas, I moved in to the middle Poland and in here I haven’t seen anyone wearing bandana or mask.

  • C Dalton123

    What spritz said. This this this.

    Unless you’re buying the 5 dollar a pop surgical theater type mask they’re ineffective at either task-preventing spread or contraction. I don’t know of you’ve seen the flimsy things they usually wear, but germs are NOT directional and their face coverage leaves much to be desired. And viruses would generally be too small to be caught on such flimsy paper.

    Also-many people (especially but not limited to) kids feel its free reign to hack and cough and not cover their mouth/turn their head/do anything. The mask thing, alongside gargling, are two “health” practices with no demonstratable health benefits.

  • ジョサイア
  • C Dalton123

    But…this is why we have an immune system. To protect us against the “dirty” world!!

  • ですこ

    I think the people on YouTube just don’t want anyone’s computer to catch a virus.

  • ジョサイア

    So that’s why my computer never gets viruses or crashes when I’m in japan…

  • ジョサイア

    As I was saying…Russian gas masks…

  • Sandra03

    I’ve seen it in the walk-in clinic, which used to be inside the mall so now and then you’d see someone wandering through the mall with a mask but not too often. I wish it was more acceptable/normal here (Canada), I’ve been getting colds like crazy the last few months because customers come in to the store sick and touching everything. bleh. and then in turn I pass it along to other customers and my staff. if people wore masks out in public when they were sick maybe we’d all get sick a little less often. That’d be nice

  • mmmfruit

    Yup, when I’ve asked my co-workers and students why they are wearing a mask, it tends to be because they don’t want to get sick – especially if they have something important coming up, like competing in a sports tournament. But it’s so normal here, that some people have told me they’re just wearing them because they are fashionable. I actually wear them now too – they’re pretty nice when you’re sick, and you don’t want to show off your red, snot-filled nose.

  • Cory

    Supposedly surgical masks really don’t stop you from getting sick or getting others sick. Very polite they do this for each other but in the end the masks don’t do much.

  • ye

    I was visiting Sensoji Temple and I decided to wear a mask as I was becoming sick, I wasn’t urged to wear one by friends either and I think they thought I was a bit strange wearing one too. Being white with curly, almost dyed ginger hair wearing a mask and a Christmas jumper in 25 (C) degree heat, I got a lot of stares. 

  • ta0paipai

    Also a reason, they didn’t put on make-up that day and don;t want people to see their real face.

  • shiro

    I was gonna say – that’s the worst. They (especially the kids who haven’t been taught otherwise yet) wear masks so often that it doesn’t even occur to them to turn their head or cough into their elbow when they aren’t wearing one.

  • simplyshiny

    It would be so much better if people would do this here…I don’t ride public transportation anymore, but when I did, there was ALWAYS someone sick on the bus/trolly…coughing then grabbing the support bars…yuck.

  • simplyshiny

    ahhh that would make everything so much easier! 

  • SaraWyatt

    That little Japanese girl in lavender looks just like my mom when she was little! LMAO I wish I had a photo of her at that exact angle.. it’s uncanny.

  • Alex Napoli

    The guitarist from Melt Banana apparently wears one because his nose bleed easily when he plays and he doesn’t want people to see bloody cotton balls sticking out of his nose.

  • Maki

    Maybe some of them wear surgical masks because they a have tattoo on their face? I heard it’s taboo and somewhat offensive to show tattoos in Japan because it could mean your part of the yakuza. I’m just saying dragon face tattoos are awesome ;)

  • Hashi

    Why stop at Russian gas masks? I want to go full Bubble Boy.

  • Hashi

    I figure every ride on the bus is just strengthening my immune system even more!

  • sora_1326

    Actually, they don’t want to show their faces not just in YouTube, but neither in NicoNico Douga. They don’t want to be discovered by anyone (like a friend, a teacher or a classmate) nor have a stalker. Actually, a few years ago, I think two Utaites had a “stalker problem” and stopped their activities and erased all of their photos though recently some Utaites, Ensoushites and Odoites aren’t covering their faces.
    I hope this can help to understand a bit about the last fact you mentioned 888833d

  • Alex

    I’ve hosted a few Japanese students and they occasionally wore a mask while at my house. I asked them why they wore it and they told me that it was because the air here (Minnesota.. during the winter season) and in the airplane, was too dry for them. However, I’m not sure if they were telling the truth or just worried about admitting that they were sick (or any other reasons for that matter). Thought I’d share. 

  • ジョサイア

    Whatever…but if there is an Apocalypse I will survive for longer! :b

  • ジョサイア
  • ジョサイア

    This is who you need to talk too.
    After you watch this you will be like…O_o

  • John

    Nope, still a guy – haha.

  • John

    And yes, definitely a guy, lol.

  • John

    Haha, that’s crazy.

  • John

    Yeah, that’s an interesting point too. Thanks for sharing!

  • David Hunt

     I can’t speak for the efficacy of the mask in stopping germs from escaping when you sneeze, or when you breathe.  But they certainly let people around you know you are sick and they’re more likely to do common sense things like wash their hands and not touch their eyes or mouth after interacting with you.

    Like a lot of other things Japanese, this one looks to be about being considerate to others.  Every little bit helps.

  • linguarum

    I remember during the H1N1 scare, health experts were saying that masks are ineffective at stopping the flu, unless you get a serious respirator that looks like something out of WWII. Best practice is to wash your hands frequently.

  • simplyshiny

    that, or you’re gonna get the plague….sorry, Hashi

  • John

    But, Hashi doesn’t want the plague :(

  • simplyshiny

    Well, no one WANTS the plague.  It’s just something that happens to you. Like the chicken pox, or a bad hair day.

  • zoomingjapan

    It does seem weird at first.
    In my home country you only wear a mask when you’re EXTREMELY sick, so when I first came to Japan many years ago I was really shocked to see so many deadly sick people ;P

    Meanwhile I’m wearing masks, too. At work we’re required to do so if we’re sick, coughing and sneezing.
    I also wear them when I have hay fever.
    I don’t think they really prevent bacteria or viruses to spread, though.

    They’re also great to hide your “gaijin-ness” – wear them in addition to sunglasses!! Hohoho~

  • MangaTherapy

    When I was in China, I saw many people with surgical masks too. I always thought it was just an Asian thing…

  • Dekinai

    i work in shops where it’s normal to wear masks all the time, and i buy the surgical ones instead because they’re a lot more comfortable than the stiff round ones.  i often forget to take them off or will just pull one i’m wearing under my chin if i’m leaving the room, but if i wore one around my own neighborhood, yeah, the staring might be a little uncomfortable

  • ですこ

    It’s really less the plague and more the flu you need to watch out for. I suppose people were thinking the same way back in 1918. I guess nobody expects the Spanish influenza.

  • Guest

    To add to what Alex said, I have several students here in Japan who will wear a mask during winter when they are not sick. They told me it helps them feel warmer and ups the humidity. They were definitely not sick at the time…

    Personally though, I really hate wearing them for exactly why my students like them in winter. They make my face too warm, itchy, and clammy. I wear them here when I’m deathly ill, but if it’s a common cold, well, colds happen to not be contagious after the first 72 hours any ways (approx 24 hours before you know you’re a carrier and 48 afterwards), so tis kind of a mute point for most of the duration of a cold. I only wear them for the first day or two if it’s a really bad cold.

  • CelestialSushi

    Totally wish Americans could get on board with this.  Goodness knows during cold and flu season people feel like they have to be out and about, and me wearing one when no one else is would make me feel super self-conscious.

  • Robert Patrick

    Oh John, why so naive after all these years ? ;-D
    The “ladies” on Youtube/NicoNico are wearing masks because they are DUDES ! “Tissue Hime”, “or the “30 days speed shred” video you chose, I’m sorry to inform you that 90% of those “girls” in stockings are males. Concealing their face helps tremendously not to be recognized as males.

  • simplyshiny

    yes, but plague is so much more dramatic

  • John

    Yeah that’s why I said it “mostly applies to the ladies” haha. Most of the dance videos with masks seem to be done by girls but most all of the instrument videos hiding the face seem to be done by cross-dressing dudes, lol.

  • Jonadab

    > I really wish it wasn’t so strange to wear masks in the west.

    Besides being a trifle strange, it’s also completely ineffective.  Have you noticed that despite the pervasiveness of surgical-mask-wearing in Japan people still get sick with about the same frequency as in other countries?  Yeah.

    A surgical mask is only one component of sterile technique.  Surgeons also scrub their hands to the elbow before surgery, cover any non-sterile clothes and hair with a layer of sterile clothing, and carefully avoid contact with anything that hasn’t been sterilized, for the duration of the procedure.  Everything around the patient has been sterilized.  Everything the doctors touch has been sterilized.

    If the doctors just went into the operating room wearing a surgical mask, without the other precautions, the patient would be just as likely to get an infection as if they didn’t wear the mask.  The mask by itself does nothing.  To be effective, it has to be a part of the whole system.

    Of course, Japan is far from being the only country that has customs that don’t actually make rational sense.  A lot of Americans don’t shake hands when they have a cold, but they use the same doorknobs and sink handles as everyone else and breath the same air.  Needless to say, this custom is just as ineffective as the Japanese mask-wearing.  And yet, there are significant social implications if you cough into your hand about six times and then wipe your hand on your pants and go to shake hands with somebody right afterward.  Refraining from doing so doesn’t actually matter in terms of spreading the pathogen, but it DOES matter socially, because of the culture.

  • ジョサイア

    You just think that (Shes) a guy because of the mask!
    (She) needs to hide her beautiful face! LOL

  • ジョサイア

    What? Soon you’ll be saying the McDonald’s clown was a girl.

  • niyoels

    I am not arguing for the effectiveness of wearing masks; obviously, there are a lot of things you have to be conscious of to get better and prevent the spread of germs. I’m in support of not feeling I need to hole up even when I’m relatively able bodied and have things I need to do during the day.

    Though I can, and do, go about my day without wearing a mask, I think the custom of wearing one makes it somewhat more acceptable and people are less likely to avoid you like you have a deadly disease (which is probably how people would react here whether you wore a mask or not).

  • Hashi

    I dunno, if I had the plague, I could wear those sweet plague doctor costumes:

  • Hashi

    Yikes. Once again, creepers ruin everything. :(((

  • Hashi

    Tattoos are taboo in Japan, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody with a tattoo around the mouth. Maybe I need to get out more!

  • ジョサイア

    (OoO) Wow… That’s sweeter than russian gas masks…

  • ジョサイア

    (O>o<O) ""/ (==) n+a

  • Cory

    Awhile back I got a really bad case of pneumonia so I asked my pulmonologist if it would be a good idea for those around me to where the masks. He said that they do not help much. I do agree it’s a very smart thing to do to, it alerts those around you maybe getting sick. But then again I really can’t say much because I need help with everything.

  • John

    Well before I just thought it was a really dedicated cross-dresser and now I’m not so sure anymore, lol.

  • Maki

    Yeah I’ve heard a guy say that he was politely asked to cover his forearm tattoos at a gym and was giving clothing do so. Doesn’t make sense though in Japan the yakuza are seen as a necessary evil for example they have their own yakuza front buildings and get up to all sorts of crime and it is somewhat accepted yet tattoos are really frowned upon. 

  • Guest

    Or because they wish to conceal their identities (I notice a lot of famous people & others who simply don’t wish to be recognized wear them when out in normal life).

    I don’t see myself ever having to wear one for health reasons – thankfully, I’ve developed a superjacked immune system & haven’t caught a bug since I was in middle school. If I were to wear one, it’d probably be just to look tough/cool. :P

  • Jen

    You missed one: acne. A lot of my students will wear masks when they get breakouts of acne around their mouths.

  • Wonderina McMarvelous

    Haha, masks.

    One of my co-workers wears a mask from November until March.  I know she’s doing it to avoid getting sick, but probably also a bit to encourage the students to wear them too during peak flu season (during which some days it’s mandatory to wear them).  She still got sick though.  And when she did, she wore double masks and walked outside every time she had to cough.  Even other Japanese thought it was a bit silly.

    Other than the fact that they are itchy, used-breath-y, and uncomfortable I don’t have much against them.  I do think it’s nice to know who’s (potentially) sick too.  And I can’t fault anyone for wanting to hide their faces from time to time.  I’ve never used it for that but I must say I’ve been tempted!

    So, many foreigners think the Japanese affinity for masks is kind of strange, but what to Japanese think about the rest of the non-mask-wearing world?  Do they think it’s dirty?  Do they think it’s weird if a foreigner wears a mask :T?  Sometimes I feel weird like I’m “trying too hard” to be Japanese if I do things like wear a mask, or say “chokoreeto” or “suuutaaabaakusuu” instead of chocolate or starbucks (but then no one understands…).

  • Magdalena Grzybowska

    Who knows? Maybe someone among you can start the custom yourself and the people around you will get used to it and, what’s more, they’ll see that it works during the season of flu etc. ;)

  • Pflan2

    I feel that shyness being a reason for wearing the mask isn’t just for YouTube. It seems to be really popular for Japanese middle and high school aged girls to wear more than anyone else. I had two females students who wore the masks every class for SIX MONTHS. I did not see the bottom half f their face for SIX MONTHS! It was like the mask had really become their face, it was über excessive. But these girls were also kind of shy and I started to theorize that these girls wear them because it helps them blend in the background and they wont get noticed. It’s pretty sad, actually :(

  • John

    Oh, yeah – I never thought of that one!

  • John

    Yeah, I’d have to agree. This isn’t something I’ve experienced first hand, but it is unfortunate. It’s like one step up from those girls who grow their bangs out to cover their faces. Put that together with wearing a mask as well and their face disappears!

  • ジョサイア

    Go look at her YouTube channel…She is defiantly not a guy…

  • John

    I did, before I posted the video on here.

  • Charles

    These masks seem eminently sensible. I live in Nebraska where winters are very cold and some kind of face covering also helps keep cold air from getting into the throat where soreness is often the first sign of a cold coming on.

  • Sumo Grip

    When I was in Kyoto, I got a fever, and ran out to a Lawson and told the cashier I was sick, and immediately she dashed and grabbed a mask for me. It was so hilarious. And then after she walked me through an aisle and got me medication. Before without the mask I got many stares (because I definitely don’t look Japanese) but with it on, I completely blended in and no one even batted an eyelash my way. It was ironic and awesome.

  • Gabe Moist

    The plague doctor costume was the surgical mask of the middle ages.

  • Amy

    This isn’t completely true. I understand that wearing a mask doesn’t completely stop you from getting infected however it does lower the risk of airborne transference of your sickness. When you sneeze or cough the virus spreads rapidly outwards onto whomever you’re closest too, wearing a mask keeps this particular mode of viral transfer contained.

  • guyhey

    I’m in Japan right now. Early on in my trip I went to a cafe, and the maid had a mask, and wrote on a white board saying she couldn’t talk because she had a cold. I was nervous she would get me sick so early into my trip, but she didn’t.

    I’ve worn the mask in the US a few times to try and avoid colds, most people just keep their mouths shut if they think it’s weird.

  • sukiXrose

    I know a girl who does the fringe thing. She’s really shy. But i think the fringe just makes her stand out more, because everyone thinks “why is her fringe so long?” not “oh, I guess I won’t talk to her since i can’t see her eyelids”. it’s just a shame really

  • Poemartyr1239

    Japanese girls who are under 18 and attending school cant show their faces on the internet. If the school finds their videos or photos they may be expelled, thats why XDDDD or it could be that they are just shy.

  • Jonadab

    > I understand that wearing a mask doesn’t completely stop
    > you from getting infected however it does lower the risk

    Intuitively, that would seem to make sense, but in practice it doesn’t work out.  It’s like protecting your house from theft by putting a good lock on one window, when the other windows are open.  If a burglar comes to your house, he’s going to get in.

    When a pathogen spreads, there isn’t just one little copy of the virus or one little individual bacterium trying to get from the infected person to someone else.  There are millions of them.  They’re in the air, yes, but they’re also on everything the person touches, among other things.  

    If you are around a sick person, you *are* exposed to the pathogen, period.  You may not get sick, depending on a number of factors (not least, whether your immune system remembers seeing something similar before), but you *will* be exposed.  Wearing a surgical mask does not prevent this.  It doesn’t even significantly reduce the probability, unless your encounter with the person is minimal (like, they walked past you briskly on the sidewalk).

  • Jonadab

    > I’m in support of not feeling I need to hole
    > up even when I’m relatively able bodied 

    People do that?

    Okay, I know one family that does that, but they also stay home from indoor events on rainy days.

  • Guest

    Jonadab in the future please do a little research before attempting to pass your opinion off as fact. A simple Google search and you would have found that your opinion is not supported by the scientific evidence presently available. A brief summary of my research into the matter.

    1. The exact effectiveness of surgical masks is unknown. The results of studies on the effectiveness of surgical masks range from minimal to significant.

    2. Surgical masks are more effective in preventing you from spreading pathogens to others than preventing the spread from others to yourself. Or to put it another way surgical masks are better at preventing you from putting pathogens into the air than preventing pathogens already in the air from getting into you.

    3. Surgical masks should be used in conjunction with other methods or preventing the spread of pathogens (such as washing hands).

    “Several studies have shown that masks can reduce the amount of infectious particles shed into the air while coughing, talking and breathing when someone has an infection of the respiratory tract.” -David P. Calfee, chief hospital epidemiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. [1]
    “Masks prevent larger respiratory droplets from reaching the mucous membranes, and so have long been used by people caring for patients with infectious diseases transmitted by large droplets, including influenza and whooping cough.” -NYTimesAccording to the CDC, “If used correctly, facemasks and respirators may help reduce the risk of getting influenza, but they should be used along with other preventive measures, such as avoiding close contact and maintaining good hand hygiene.” [2]Citations:1.

    TL;DR – Surgical masks are not useless. Jonadab is wrong.

  • Distantsungrrl

     i wish it was more common in the west.  the other day i was flying FinnAir and was squeezed between 2 sneezing and coughing ladies neither of whom seemed to attach any importance to the fact that they may be spreading the bug.  So i ended up asking the flight attendant to puhleeeez move me somewhere, don’t remember what reason i cited but she did offer me another seat.  on another note I will never forget how i once showed up in the office wearing a surgical mask because i was sick and people were giving me weird looks and someone asked me if i got plastic surgery or something! (sic!)  I was laughing sooooo hard!!! i never did it again…

  • Bimotarich

    Girls often also wear masks when they have had no time or could not be bothered to put on their make up… 

  • Hadenoughalread

    If faced with wearing a mask and/or being stuck at home, I go with the mask!

  • Ken Seeroi

    Because Japanese people don’t cover mouths when we cough.  It’s unfortunate for the people around us.  Maybe we don’t like to get our hands dirty, I don’t know, but wearing a mask, we don’t have to worry about it.

  • Rowan West

    When I caught a terrible cold in the spring but still had to go to school (in Utah, US), I wore a mask to my classes. People were startled initially, but when I told them why I was wearing it they invariably thanked me for thinking of them. I’m definitely going to do it again next time I get sick.

  • Envy

    Do they wear it when they’re jogging/exercising? Could this mask help with asthma? I got asthma as a kid because my middle school had us running near a lot of car exhaust every week.

  • Heisenberg

    i’m surprised he had nothing else to say after proving him wrong with actual facts. nicely done.

  • Budthestud

    Wait, so you’re telling me none of them are doctors who just got off work? Think man, they’re Asian!

  • Rich S

    Jonadab does not now what he/she is talking about.
    While there are several types of masks, N95 masks will trap nearly all (about 95%) of particulates, including mucous and saliva droplets that contain bacteria and viruses.
    “Airbourne” viruses/bacteria don’t actually float around in the air all by their lonesome. They are carried by aeosolized droplets out of a person’s respiratory tract into the air around them.
    While a mask may not trap ALL pathogens that a person is breathing out, it will trap most….which greatly reduces the transmission rate of the disease. It’s not about maintaining a sterile environment….it’s about creating a barrier that is difficult for the pathogen to get thru.
    If a sick person is wearing a mask, they are preventing a significant percentage of respiratory pathogens from spreading into the air around them…..and if a healthy person near them is also wearing a mask, then the healthy person is significantly reducing the percentage of the reduced number of respiratory pathogens that DID make it “into the open” from entering his/her body.

  • ガル

    i wear a mask in japan because i am too ashamed of my acne . Can you help me with my problem? i really need your help .

  • Emily Howell

    I live in Michigan, but totally plan on getting some come this winter semester at college. It never fails that I get sick due to others hacking on their hands and then touching the doorknobs. At least if I get sick again, I can set an example that people ought to be considerate. Hell, I might wear one even if I am not sick If I see someone coughing. I don’t want to be delirious during an exam ever again.

  • pink

    You’re just a pseudo-intellectual trying to be popular. As the guest said, do research before you attempt to sound intelligent.

  • pink

    Well done. Jonadab or whatever is just a pseudo-intellectual overcompensating for his lack of an education.

  • Rei

    wow stop with the greentext. What are you? From Reddit?

  • romea

    i really wish more people in the western hemisphere would be this sensible!!

    as to the effectiveness of n95 masks: for some years now, my husband & i will not enter a plane without them. before this, at least one of us would come home with a flu each time & every time… miraculously (or not… ;-)), this has stopped since we are wearing said masks.


    people get real! stop worrying about what others might think and put your health first. besides washing your hands frequently: protect yourself (and others – in case you are sick) by wearing n95 masks.
    flu-prevention really can be this simple!

  • Jed Hunsaker

    I wore a mask to work today. I got a lot of stares and people asking why I was wearing one, but when I told them it was so I don’t make them sick, they were very grateful and appreciated what I was doing. I’m in the Los Angeles area, BTW.

  • Hobbid Hobbin

    For people tiring to make sense of this conversation

    Jonadab wasn’t exactly wrong as guest points out. If you haven’t got a high quality chemical grade mask then the chance of you getting infection is still theoretically* high because it wont stop water droplets from entering the mask. Guest is also right that if you breath out into something it does stop the air from spreading out.

    I would however question Heisenberg calling quotes from nytimes and wikipedia “actual facts”

    What Rich S says about N95 masks is not helpful but the rest is. Firstly the face masks worn are not ussually N95 masks since they are more expensive. Rich S says nearly what they say on the website “when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95% of very small test particles” This means nothing since it fails it elaborate on what “careful testing” is and also fails to give the size of the particulates (which can vary greatly in size) some it could definitely not block while larger particulates could be blocked by a kitchen sieve.

    *Interestingly enough the masks can help stop you getting infection. A large (it’s difficult to place an exact value) amount of bacteria and viruses are passed to you by your hands not the air. A recent study (last year I think) showed that people in cities touched their faces on average between 3 and 4 times per hour. The mask helps prevent you from touching your face so helps prevent infection.

    I think the far more interesting question this raise is, is a reduction in disease transmission a good thing. If you live in a country where infection rates are lower does it mean you immune system is significantly lower so you will suffer more when you get an infection?

    probably wrote too much…….

    [someone correct me if I got something wrong, this is very unscientific since I didn’t source anything]

  • Louise Igmen

    I think in some schools, if a student shows their face online, they get expelled. Please correct me if I’m wrong

  • Hib

    It helps a lot if everyone does it. Of course it wouldn’t help if only you do it. When everyone who is sick is wearing a mask, they are no longer covering their mouth with their hands, so they do not contaminate things as much when they touch things, and because everyone is doing this everything is less contaminated, so when you touch something you are not picking up as much bacteria on your hands, and you are not going to spread as much when you touch something else. Everything suddenly becomes cleaner. Of course you will still get sick, but I can see this making a significant difference. Also there will be less illness spread in the air. The only argument against this should be that when there is less bacteria being spread, and less people are being infected, our immune systems are not trained as well to fight against it. When we get the illness it might be more serious, if we don’t get it as often.

  • aliaster

    wish more sick kunts would do this and stop spreading their pathogens and viruses around the filthy phuckers…

  • Scott James

    I wore a mask to work during flu season maybe a year or two ago. My boss told me to stop because customers were complaining about an employee having to come into work when they’re sick. Admittedly at first I WAS sick and I kept wearing it because I didn’t want to get sick from others.

    I was told the masks are only effective for maybe a half hour, then they’re used up.

    I personally think it’s better than nothing. I suppose everybody around me says they’re not very effective and just make others uncomfortable, but the question isn’t “are they a key element in preventing the spread of illness” the question is “are they better than absolutely no barrier at all?”

  • Jenann80

    This doesn’t account for why it is primarily young females who wear these masks in Japan. Other people get sick too right?

  • Sanjay Tyagi

    Only way to assess the effectiveness of the masks is to do a controlled social experiment – an entire city should not use them for a season. This should be accompanied by city-wide measurements of incidence of cold, before, during and after the experimental stoppage. After repeating the experiment a number of times we may find if the practice helps. Does anyone have a sense of origin of this practice as to when and how it began?

  • Shayne O

    The mask will stop bacteria, but not virus (Well ,maybe a tiny bit). Unfortunately, most colds are viruses. As was sars.

  • Elizabeth Smith

    Stupidity. To give or get protection they would have to wear a hazmat suit.

  • Meeplogic

    No why most japanese youtubers wear masks is because in japan
    It is ilegal to post a vide of yourself under the age of 18

  • Matt

    It all makes sense now

  • steve

    You have missed 2 other reasons. 1. Fashion. You have a pic of one girl wearing it for fashion but don’t list it as a reason and 2. Girls sometimes wear them because they can’t be bothered doing make up on their face and/or have a spot on nose or around the mouth.

  • I don’t care

    Wow. This is crazy! Are you all immunodeficient? I don’t care if you have a cold, take off your mask when talking to me or I will call the police!

  • bvn

    Thank you that was really helpful : )

  • sterls

    Bioaerosols—tiny airborne fluid droplets generated by coughing or sneezing—are a major concern for the spread of contagions like influenza

  • Chris A Hooymans

    The most likely reason is to avoid inhaling airborne pollutants, viruses and radioactive particles floating all around the country since the Fukushima disaster.

  • dijobu

    Japanese are so considerate

  • poldavo

    Just for clarification: It was called Spanish Influenza just because contrary to Spain, France and the other Euro countries were engaged in WWI, and thus censorship was a rule in media/the press. So when the plague unleashed in devastated Europe and reached Spain, the local media reported about it and it was very convenient, globally, to call it “Spanish” influenza. But we Spaniards didn’t have anything to do with the surge! :)

  • sitkakona

    Hi. I’m a psuedo intellect wannabe :) I’m also a registered nurse. I can tell you this – if a person does not have the appropriate mask, fitted as completely as is physically possible to the skin, sealing all respirations and inspirations, and uses lots of soap and water to wash hands followed by Purell, and has not sneezed onto their clothes, and so on and on, then wearing any old mask any old way is just for psuedo politeness.

  • Alex

    so much is so different, it’s crazy.

  • Shelby

    I just can’t wear those damned masks because they fog up my glasses. I once had to wear a mask at the doctor’s office because of a bad cough but my glasses would fog up every time i breathed.

  • mrkaos

    Here is

    the science:

    The salient line “The addition of a mask to the surgical scrubs and

    gown did not reduce the airborne dispersal significantly (IRR, 0.92;


    Surgical masks are for healthy people operating on people. They are

    not for sick people to go outside and carry on as if they are well.

    Using them this way increases the surface area by

    introducing a second vector (i.e. two airways out the side of the

    mouth instead of one from the front).

    I do note that there are new types of masks that wrap the face up to

    the ears however my understanding is that the viruses are especially

    contagious in the express and shed stages especially by touching

    something that an infected person has touched.

    This is why it is one of my pet hates because it is false politeness disguising ignorance that makes

    people sick because our culture is so arranged that people feel the

    *have* to come to work when they are sick.

    This is the real reason people *have* to wear them. So if you are sick…



  • sivie

    they also wear it out of fashion has well.

    which is also why u can get them in different colors and all.

    Alot of actors/singers use it by the trend and not just sickness. Some is special made with spikes to look more cool. Also, they wear it thanks to cosplaying, when their favorite anime characters has it on themself and they dress up has their favorite characters.

    For the singers at least, they have their band/group names or the logo designed and the fans can wear the mask by buying it to show their love towards their idols.

  • Rachel

    I wear a mask when I am sick and I live in the United States. At first, people would ask why I wore it (besides my Japanese friends) and after I explained it was because I was sick, they thought it was very considerate and were thankful.

  • gaijin kaere

    In regards to your friend who did not wear mask when she had a cold is kind of rude; You have to respect and honor the culture, why the heck did she come to Japan to study if she won’t honor our culture? That is why gaijin are not appreciated…

  • Helder Pinto

    Here’s a TL;DR

    because: Japan

  • Tuskiko Ian

    That would be awesome if I could wear a mask when I’m sick or give one to a friend when there ill, but at school it be another thing for people to pick on me.

  • Fyxe Hexyz

    Unless… its actually a guy under the mask XD You’ll never know :P

  • Etsuko

    I think the youtube mask use isn’t so much shyness as to protect their identity; they seem much more protective of that than other nationalities. Also, if they were wearing it to prevent judgement based on looks, they wouldn’t wear cutesey/sexy outfits, especially that last girl *////* in that case, probably to prevent a)creepers form tracking them down and b)being recognized by friends/family, which could be embarrassing given the outfit and dance. I don’t know about that last one for sure though, just my speculation.

  • Piobair

    Every time I have to shake hands with someone this time of year I cringe; can’t we just gassho and bow instead?



  • Coda C.

    I actually think its kinda hot on girls

  • Coda C.

    I think all of them are beautiful

  • Kari

    i wore a mask when i went into school sometimes during high school, mostly because i had to walk up the street EARLY in the morning for the bus, and it was freezing! (being in the US but on par with Hokkaido will do that.) i still do it sometimes when it’s cold or windy, it’s a great way to keep your face warm! ^^

  • puppyperson

    I once had to wear a mask while in the hospital visiting my grandmother. I wasn’t sick at the time, but having to breathe through the mask made me feel ill and lightheaded, and I actually vomited and nearly passed out. I won’t be wearing a mask in the US. If I’m someplace where it’s considered polite, I guess I’ll have to stay in.

  • Snooks

    I don’t really get sick. I may get a slight cold every few years for a day or two so I think they are possibly creating a problem in society. Being exposed to a variety of germs helps to build up the immune system. I have heard elsewhere that the Japanese people are constantly getting sick because they are too concerned with hygiene. The people there all carry hand sanitizer and wash their hands all the time. They also had the H1N1 flu pandemic there in 2009. So being healthy all the time may not stop the spread of diseases. From my own experiences when travelling is that Japanese people get sick all the time as soon as they are exposed to foreign germs and they don’t have a natural defence against such things.

  • Sara

    I tried but, sadly, stopped as people became overly concerned by it. In fact, my manager at the time told me I could not wear it because it would “alarm customers”…so, I took it off and hacked all over their things. :( I’m going to get a more fashionable one and try again in the hopes that it will be less alarming. It helps that I now work at a university with a large asian population. -fingers crossed- :)

  • Samantha

    I went to the doctor yesterday and wore a mask the whole time. I’m a 42yo healthy female with a bad cold virus and did not want to risk having coughing fits around so many people at Kaiser nor get the germs of others having coughing fits with different viruses being as how my immune system already in the state of fighting…only two other people out of 100 or more including employees had a mask on, one of which who appeared to be Japanese. People totally stared at me and I felt uncomfortable for about 10 minutes…until I had a bunch of coughing fits and was near little kids sneezing and coughing without covering …I also got the feeling that once people saw me coughing in at the Pharmacy and heard how nasty and relentless it was, they maybe ‘got it’…from now on I will always wear a mask in a place like that -sick or not sick…and use hand sanitizer and wash my hands before and after…

  • Samantha

    I think people who continue to go to work and social engagements while they are sick are very inconsiderate–you know the type – ones who take tremendous pride in and go to great lengths never to cancel anything come hell or high water …then they get everyone at the dinner engagement or whatever sick…or people who try to guilt trip you into attending a function you previously committed to when you are sick –can’t stand it. My friends know that I will cancel when I’m sick and to not even try guilt trip and they know that if they are sick I have given them full permission to CANCEL – its OK people to cancel your damn plans!!! You show up at my house sick, I’m sending you home with some tissues broth and cough drops whether you like it or not! Bottom line–stay home when you are sick people!!!!!

  • lumiina

    I have a really hard time wearing masks. I can’t breath in them. Maybe it’s my asthma. But people in Japan have athsma too. I’m sick in Japan now and feel so disrespectful for not wearing one. I can’t wear one when not sick, how can I wear one when my nose is stuffed up and I can hardly breath? If this wasn’t a problem for me, I would wear one.

  • lumiina

    I understand your anger. But asthma is something you’re born with, not something you catch.

  • lumiina

    Reminds me of キノの旅 for some reason.

  • Cinthya

    Hey thanks for the post, now I understand, but I have a question: What about the eye patches? They’re also common than masks.

  • rehnen

    Ever heard about something called the immune system? There is a reason that you rarely see a doctor or nurse sick from a common cold. Being around them is actually in the long run good for you

  • rehnen

    Try to make as much fun of her as you can.

  • Anon

    I wore a mask to school once since I was sick. My friends were amused by it, and were entering into their otaku mode since most of us are really into anime. I didn’t really find it to be abnormal, since in korea most people wear it when they are sick like in japan. However, when I was walking around in the courtyard, I did get quite a lot of stares.

    Of course I took it off, but I don’t really understand the problem with trying to prevent spreading my cold to my peers.

  • Me

    I think that they are wonderful for the consideration of others. They should have thought about consideration of others with cleaning up that Fukushima mess. Now all of the waters are radiation contaminated. It’s horrible! =Fu ku to the rest of the world.


    yeah i guess the united states over here are not as nice as in japan oh japan i wish i could move to tokyo because i know my heart belongs there not with these selfish lazy greedy americans no offence to americans even though i am 90 percent right :D

  • monica

    Personally, I do not agree with the whole mask thing. My immune system is strong because it is exposed to the elements, not that I go around licking doorknobs, but constant exposure means that your body is also building immunities. If that many people in Japan are sick at any given time, it stands to reason that either the masks are ineffective, or that most Japanese have made their immune system more fragile by protecting themselves and others from common viruses, and therefore more likely to get sick when the occasion arises. For myself, I would rather risk getting a cold, than to not talk to someone face to face. To me, it is more rude to wear one. Western vs. Eastern views.

  • azumirm

    Primarily its not about disease or allergies. Its about hiding their identity from society and removing themselves from the feeling of being out in public. Not to mention: its fashionable in their minds. What they don’t realize is that the masks are causing more problems than they are solving. You spend all day out wearing a mask, coughing in to it, sneezing in it and wherever else. Then you get home or to the office and touch it. Spreading a concentration of whatever virus you have on to anything you touch.

  • Nzenit

    Seriously they do it because they are germofobs, period!

  • S_Daedalus

    You might want to look at the epidemiological research relating to the spread of TB, in which the use of various masks for the infected person for the purposes of public appearance and travel has been well explored.

    That being said, TB is a BIIIG bulky bacterium compared to the svelte viruses such as Influenza, so you’d expect a surgical mask to be far less effective. More, when it comes to controlling something like the spread of TB, part of the efficacy of the mask is the large bacterial load required to truly expose someone to infectious levels of airborne sputum containing TB. In the case of the flu, you require far less of the infectious agent, which is also a much smaller structure and more likely to pass through a simple mask.

    NIOSH, the body which (in addition to a lot of other things) rates filtration masks for their total efficacy and use, hasn’t found that N95 masks (filtering 95% of airborne particles, but not oils) are effective at preventing the spread of influenza. Part of the issue seems to be that 95% doesn’t cut it for the flu, TIL (Total Inward Leakage, a measure of how much exterior particulate can enter the breathing region), and probably other factors.

    Given that you need a very properly fitted N100 mask, which is cumbersome and uncomfortable to wear for long periods. More, these masks have the tendency to concentrate blood CO/CO2 levels, and drop O levels over time, meaning you don’t want your kid wearing this all day.

    Viruses are just so small that a surgical mask might as well not exist for them… that’s the bummer. For a bacterial infection, a mask is a huge benefit to everyone around you though, and a great way to avoid spreading disease.

  • soiboy

    > The exact effectiveness of surgical masks is unknown.
    Yep, that pretty much sums it up right there. Nuf said. :)

  • soiboy

    He didn’t have to, you backed him up! :)

  • soiboy

    Yep, purely a social phenomenon. They seldom make sense and rarely use logic.

  • soiboy

    Japanese people are paranoid about just about everything. Just one more example.

  • Ah Choo

    People being considerate? That’s nonsense.

  • Tyler Feldmann

    This isn’t a BBS board you moron. “Surgeons also scrub their hands to the elbow before surgery, cover any non-sterile clothes and hair with a layer of sterile clothing, and carefully avoid contact with anything that hasn’t been sterilized, for the duration of the procedure” way to compare apples to oranges, does a dentist do said practices? they still wear a mask everytime they operate but I don’t know any that do the rest of the garbage you said…some people are so stupid and try to compare apples to oranges

  • Mr. Deathriage

    Pfft, surgical mask. I wear a full face respirator :p jk, not a bad idea though

  • Gemma

    And some people, Tyler, feel the need to be rude and insulting to others in order it make themselves feel clever and superior. You should both get out more

  • Tyler Feldmann

    square up

  • sav

    It’s probably because the foreigners who come to America don’t honor OUR culture. It goes both ways. You have to be respectful to get respect. If she saw foreigners being disrespectful of customs in her native country, then she would not have thought twice about following someone else’s customs in their country. I’ve seen foreigners being very rude compared to what is socially normal here.