The foreign visitors, especially from the western countries, in Japan always asked “Why Japanese people wear masks?” It seemed very unique and special aspect for them. Nowadays, because of the spread of the COVID-19, wearing masks is normal sight even in the western countries. Then, why Japanese people have been wearing masks before the pandemic?
Not the Air Pollution
Followed by the first question why the Japanese wear masks, they often ask them “Is that because of the air pollution?” It is absolutely not. From 1960’s to early 1970’s, according to the economic expansion, the factories generated hazardous smoke into the air. But it was a log time ago. The government has continued the effort to reduce the air pollution by setting the strict regulation. The air is much clearer even in Tokyo compared to 1970’s. The number of the days which you can see Mount Fuji is increasing year by year.
Main reason for wearing masks is protecting from the pollen. The number of people who have hay fever has been increasing for these 20 years. The main cause of the hay fever is cedar and cypress pollen. Cedar and cypress are the most prevailing tree in Japan, but mostly planted artificially. These lumbers have been used to construct houses from long time ago. Cedar and cypress grow rapidly and linearly, strong water resistance and easy to process. During the WWII, a lot of houses were destroyed by the air raid and after the war, there are a lot of demand to rebuild the houses. So, the government tried to plant millions of cedars all over Japan. The cedars start to have flowers and generate pollens when they become 20 to 30 years old. That’s the main reason of the increase of the allergic people to the pollen in recent year.
The cedar pollen season is from the late February to March. But that’s not the end of the hay fever. After the cedar pollen, cypress pollen starts to fly in the air until the end of April. Some people still suffer in May and June by the pollen from the poaceous plants.
So, if you come to Japan in spring, you may see many people wearing masks.
Pollen is not the only reason for the masks. When having a cold, Japanese people don’t want to spread the germs. Japanese always think about others. You may say the Japanese are very kind. Yes, that’s true, but also they are always conscious about what other people think about them. If you cough on the train without wearing mask, you may be accused by the others. Even though, the others don’t speak to you, they most likely glare at you. The Japanese are afraid of that.
On the other hand, the Japanese wear masks to protect themselves from the germ. If someone is coughing in the office or train, they want to protect from getting cold. Or some people wear masks to protect their throat from the cold and dry air.
So these both reasons, many Japanese wear masks especially in winter, the season of having cold.
Hiding the face
There are more reasons. The housewives normally don’t wear makeup at home, but they may need to go to supermarket to buy something. They don’t want to wear makeup just go shopping at a supermarket, so they cover their faces without wearing makeup.
Some other people also want to hide their face when they have mental problems. They don’t want to show their face expressions.
Under the Pandemic of COVID-19
From the spring in 2020, COVID-19 has started to spread all over the world including Japan. But situation in Japan is not very bad for the moment. Compared to western countries, numbers of people who are infected and who died are much less. When I see the TV news reporting the situation of the virus, in many western countries, many people are not wearing masks and there are sometimes demonstrations against the regulation to wear masks. It doesn’t happen in Japan. Japanese people always wear masks in the public space like on the trains, in the offices or in the shops. It may be one of the main reasons of less infected people in Japan.