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Why Asians wear surgical masks in public (2014) (qz.com)
122 points by tosh 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 102 comments

Surgical masks don't protect you against airborne viruses, but if you wear one when you have a cold it does help protect other people from viruses in your snot/water particles.

The facts about this are fairly well known in Japan now (although there may still be people who wear masks in the misguided hope that they won't catch other people's colds despite), so it's not very accurate to try to imply that use of surgical masks in Japan is purely due to some sort of failure to understand germ theory or something like that.

And if ever you visit Japan, you’ll see a significant number of people pull down their masks to unleash their coughs and sneezes completely uncovered in a crowded area. Covering coughs and sneezes isn’t really a concept here, and when it’s done, it’s done with bare hands which most people don’t wash during their bathroom visits.

People wear masks here during pollen season or handling dusty/dirty things, to indicate to others that they may be sick, or to soak up their runny nose drippings. But for the most part, like many aspects of society, they serve only a decorative purpose.

That's pretty interesting. I don't know anything about Japan really, but having lived in Korea, I can say with certainty that Koreans wear masks when they are sick to prevent spreading it to other people and not for decorative purpose. If you have even the slightest sniffle or cough and don't wear one, people are going to think negatively of you. I've never seen someone pull their mask down to cough or sneeze.

A more recent development is decorative designs, and that's been popularized a bit by kpop stars in music videos, but no one wears a mask in Korea in real life just for decoration. The only time outside that is when yellow sand is bad.

That is not characteristic of why they wear masks. And at least a lot of other less crowded parts of Asia are just meme-ing Japn, as they do for a lot of other stuff as well.

I was on a short trip there and caught a cold, and an okder businessman gave me one of his masks because he saw I was struggling to contain my coughs with just my hands.

It gets very crowded in Tokyo, so these masks are essential during cold and flu season.

In my region's public elementary schools, kids are taught to "vampire cough".

I wonder how it's effectiveness compares to that of wearing a mask.

This has been studied. Coughing into your elbow is better than coughing into your hands, but not as good as wearing a mask. Wearing a mask doesn't completely protect the people around you (unless you're using something more than just a basic surgical/dust/pollen mask), but it does help a lot.

I came to say the same thing. From my understanding, people in HK wear the mask largely to protect their colleagues and friends when they themselves are sick (or even potentially sick, eg when one of their family is).

The article didn't delve sufficiently into that, and even implied the opposite motivation with a (snide) parenthesis ("(Surgeons use them to protect patients from their mouth-borne germs, not the other way around.)").

I believe that the parenthetical comment wasn't intended to be snide, and wasn't trying to imply that Eastern mask-wearers don't understand this. I think it was more to explain it to Western readers, as this is something that is very commonly misunderstood, at least in the US.

Ah, maybe you're right.

"The reality is that the woven-cloth surgical masks provide minimal protection from environmental viruses anyway. (Surgeons use them to protect patients from their mouth-borne germs, not the other way around.)"

This is stated multiple times in the article.

Our local clinic in the US has actually started a policy of asking visitors to wear masks if they think they might be sick.

Seems sensible enough.

That sounds great. It's horrible being in public transport (Europe) with a compromised immune system.

Two weeks after I went on my medicine someone walked past in a close to empty train and sneezed big lumps of snot onto my face.

Every hospital and clinic has them available at the entrance where I am in the US.

I'd be curious how effective any of this is, but that would be hard to test.

Get a sample of ill people, compare the amounts of particles excreted in to the air with and without the mask. You will require a decent sized n, but it doesn’t seem insanely high.

They also serve privacy purposes and have also become a rather cool fashion accessory:

[0] http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=face+mask+fashion

I think they will go quite nicely with decorated AR glasses once those become commonplace, for a combination that would thwart mass face-detection once that's commonplace as well.

And does it work? Like is there a materially lower prevalence of cold/flu in Japan than in countries of similar climate?

It could be done more out of politeness than effectiveness in reducing transmission. It would make a lot of sense in places with a high population density.

Surgical masks don't protect you against airborne viruses

Maybe not, but they should be great at protecting you from tiny droplets of fluid (above a certain size) from coughing and sneezing. I would think that alone should cut down on the risk of getting sick.

That's what "airborne" means. Nobody thinks viruses are riding nitrogen molecules.

My wife stays the FUCK away from people wearing them - she thinks they are all ebola carriers. I think that alone is what keeps the mask wearers healthy - all the americans think the mask wearer is the sick one.

that's absolutely true. Well, not the ebola part.

It's one of the examples I use to demonstrate differences between Western and Eastern culture:

in the West we would only wear a mask if we were worried about being infected with other people's germs.

In the East they wear a mask to indicate that they are unwell and to stop other people from being infected with their germs.

Yeah, wearing a mask won't really protect you from catchin something, but it will reduce the odds of you transmitting the disease to others around you.

She would avoid me like the plague during allergy season, then! If I don't wear a pollen mask during that time, I will literally never stop sneezing.

Kind of a tangent, but in Japan what's the situation with taking time off work if you are ill and sick pay?

I can only give you my experience (working as a civil servant, teaching English in a public high school). People generally have 20 days of vacation and 20 days of sick leave per year. You can get more sick leave if there is a good reason (i.e. if you are hospitalised), but at some point I think disability kicks in. I can tell you (since I now have my own company) that disability insurance is private, so the details will vary. There is also no requirement for an employer to have disability insurance, although I'm pretty sure they do in the government (I had a couple of friends on disability for a couple of years).

Generally speaking, people do not take time off in their first year of employment (either vacation time of sick leave). If you are very ill, you need to go to the doctor and get a note. This includes the flu. Basically, you go to the doctor and if the doctor thinks there is a chance that you might have the flu, then you you'll get a note.

People go to the doctor when they even just have the sniffles. There are clinics everywhere and walk in appointments are the norm. You just go in, fill in forms (if you aren't already a patient there), wait for an hour or so, talk to the doctor for 10 minutes and then leave. If the doctor says you shouldn't go to work, then "It can't be helped" and you can't go to work. Pretty much that's the end of it.

However it can get more complicated than that. If you are ill a lot, you will generally get some criticism. Your presence is considered necessary and so if you aren't there, then other people have to put in extra work (whether that's really true or not depends on the job, I guess). Most people will use a vacation day rather than a sick day if they are ill. However, that's in the context that people don't generally use all their vacation days, so it's pretty difficult to say.

For me, I underwent minor surgery while I was working at the school and took 2 sick days (one to go to the hospital when I was very ill and one to have the surgery). One of my colleagues complained, but my department head protected me. Probably sounds very weird, right? But that's the way it is. Me taking a day off meant more work for the colleague, but the department head decided it would be better in the long run if I didn't die ;-)

Again, I have to stress that the time off thing is very different than other places. When I got married, I went to my department head to see if there was a way I could take a day off. He said, "Absolutely. Would you like the morning or afternoon off?" I ended up getting married on a public holiday.

I had a colleague who had a bad back (he used to be a pro wrestler in Mexico of all things -- Japanese guy). He had to have a ton of surgery (over several years). He was gone at least 6 months without going on disability, but then eventually the school had to ask him to go on disability so that they could hire a temporary replacement. On the other extreme, I knew someone with cancer who had to go for regular treatments and the school asked if there was some way he could schedule his treatments so that they didn't interfere with his work schedule. So it's not at all what you might imagine (either one way or the other). Sometimes they bend over backwards to help you out and sometimes they make seemingly petty demands. It depends a lot on your management and the organisation. And sometimes it even depends on your colleagues because if they complain about you a lot, then the department head has to do something to fix the problem. In Japan, forcing your department head to fix a problem is pretty well the best way to get in their bad books -- you are supposed to take responsibility and find solutions to problems yourself.

And I think that last sentence really sums up my experience with that kind of thing in Japan. Creating problems (even if they aren't your fault) that others have to fix is just tremendously bad form. This puts a lot of pressure on you do find a solution -- and often that solution is "I'll go to work even if I'm ill".

Thank you; I should've learned about Japanese work culture earlier. (The only thing I'd heard, for a long time, was how to respectfully receive and give business cards.)

One time, while I was a fairly new high-level engineer of a university tech spinoff that had been acquired by a Japanese company, I got a bad ear infection that took several doctor visits to diagnose (then was cured trivially). As perhaps a natural "company man", I felt even worse about my performance nosediving, than I did about the symptom misery. No one was happy about it.

I did recover a tiny bit of the goodwill I lost, when I was working in the empty office over some major holiday (Christmas break?), and the Japanese executive appeared at some point, and asked why I was there. I said I'd been sick, and was trying to make it up. He seemed to approve.

That time, or a similar after-hours occasion around then, the Japanese executive asked me where one can get food, so I started telling him directions to nearby grocery stores and restaurants, and he didn't seem to understand, so I went into increasing detail with the directions and other options. Years later, I learned that there's some Japanese office culture around going out after work with colleagues, and I suppose he might've been suggesting that, but not directly enough for oblivious me.

Thank you very much for this explanation. It reminded a bit when I read The Chrysanthemum and the Sword by Ruth Benedict. I visited Japan (and stayed with locals all the time) this last year after reading that book and I didn't see most of these rigid descriptions Ruth Benedict explained there, but I felt like they have this kind of work culture that is way different than mine in Spain.

You guys are probably at the other ends of the spectrum, and not only geographically :p

While I find it funny and I like those jokes, I think your comment implies a bit of ignorance. You should look for a list of countries ordered by their GDP (PPP) per hour worked. Spain's productivity is a bit higher than Japan's (I'm not an expert, so maybe there are more technical data to check out). Here you have a couple of links:

List of countries by GDP (PPP) per hour worked: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)...

Problem of productivity in Spain - compared with Germany: http://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/la-productividad-del-tra...

And of course we like our siesta and enjoy our nice weather! haha

I know, I was just joking. I've been to Spain and I know that the whole "sleeping at work" stereotype is based on things from 200 years ago :)

Thank you for sharing your experience.

It seems like Japan would benefit greatly from telecommuting. (it is a developed economy with well built telecommunication infrastructure, affinity for robotics/etc).

is there such a trend in that country?

I haven't heard of anything like that. I think it is inevitable eventually but it's really antithetical to the culture at the moment. Everything is done really cooperatively so the idea of being alone working at home would probably incite a few heart attacks :-)

What's really interesting to me on the opposite side is that I've never heard of pair programming in Japan. I really should go on the speaker circuit here because it seems like the perfect Japanese technique.

Anyway, if someone wants to start a risky startup for the Japanese market, some kind of software that enables collaborative work while telecommuting is probably necessary. It could probably make a lot of money eventually, but risky in the short term until something like that is accepted.

As a different data point, in HK you start out with 7 days annual leave (in addition to public holidays), and after 2 years with the company that increases by a day per year every year, up to a maximum of 14 days annual leave after you've been with the firm for 9 years. (Companies can offer better conditions, needless to say.)

One also accrues paid sick days (2 per month initially, later more).

Depending on the company you either take personal leave, dipping into your paid vacation, or you have a day worth of pay reduced from your salary.

The companies that give you actual sick days are rare, but thankfully more of them are popping up as the old guard changes. one notable exception from memory is that kids coming here to teach English get unusually cushy conditions.

Just a quick comment: as I noted in my other post it is normal for companies to give 20 days of sick leave. Often you can't take them, though ;-) I don't know a single person working as an employee of a large company in Japan that doesn't get 20 days of sick leave. But those stresses are very important. Most foreigners do not get permanent jobs and are not employees. They are contract workers, who get no sick leave. The number of contract workers in Japan is growing, though.

This is very true. I’m the last few jobs I worked here the ratio of full time to contract was shifting significantly to contract (though working in IT my perspective may be skewed).

Is also worth nothing that work laws in Japan are flimsy at best do “black” companies get away with a lot of shady stuff. Even if you have 20 days leave on paper, depending on the company the corporate culture can be very pushy about your not taking them.

I lucked out a few times and found places that were good about it.. but I’ve heard some real horror stories :/

So in that sense, it's a bit like my experience in the software industry? My experience is that while people get a set amount of PTO per year, they rarely take it. Not because it's disapproved of, but because of the price you have to pay in work backlog when you return.

Very odd angle.. Seems to be written by someone with little on-the-ground experience. I can only speak from my experience in Hong Kong, where masks are worn when you've got a cold or flu to keep from infecting other people. Sure, ideally, sick people should be home in bed, but the pressure to work here is extreme, even when sick, so you'll often see offices full of hacking employees with surgical masks.

As for the pollution, the masks don't do any good at all and people know that. Go up to Beijing, for example, and the masks are mostly not surgical, but rather 3M pm2.5 filters.

My wife is Japanese and I lived in Japan for 6 years.

The main reason I've been informed by family and friends for wearing the masks, is to prevent others from catching their cold/flu, as a courtesy.

I don't think that article (which I've read before) is a particularly good one - in my opinion it highlights the 'outlier' reasons rather than what in my experience is the main reason, cited above.

The article does cite that reason.

> A second global flu epidemic in 1934 cemented Japan’s love affair with the facemask, which began to be worn with regularity during the winter months—primarily, given Japan’s obsession with social courtesy, by cough-and-cold victims seeking to avoid transmitting their germs to others, rather than healthy people looking to prevent the onset of illness.

It does mention it, but the impression I get from actually having lived in Japan for a while is that this is the main reason, but the article has it sort of buried amongst the numerous 'outlier' reasons.

Something that shocked me while visiting Korea was a friend explaining to me that a mask is the only way for her to go out without makeup.

The societal pressure on appearance is so high, that just going to the grocery shopping without makeup is seen a socially unacceptable. The simplest way around it is to hide your face, and the best way to do so is to wear a surgical mask.

On a side note, in Korea, this is not reserved to women, lot of men wear makeup as well.

>The societal pressure on appearance is so high, that just going to the grocery shopping without makeup is seen a socially unacceptable.

Well, "socially unacceptable" if you're superficial and want to be popular and trendy.

I have a few Korean friends and they don't particularly care.

So, it's as much "pressure" as wearing brand name clothes would be in the Valley in the 90s.

> if you're superficial and want to be popular and trendy

You can be concerned about being popular and trendy without being superficial. Ignoring fashion, style, and appearance standards can hurt your life chances and your relationships with other people. In societies where popularity and trendiness signal and enhance status, it's rational to be concerned about them.

>You can be concerned about being popular and trendy without being superficial. Ignoring fashion, style, and appearance standards can hurt your life chances and your relationships with other people.

If your worried about your "life chances and your relationships with other people" based on fashion and style, then you're superficial, and those are superficial relations (and a superficial career).

Not caring about "fashion and style" doesn't mean you're some hobo style slob (which would indeed hurt your relations and life chances for non-superficial reasons, e.g. because you smell and wear shorts at the office).

Are they actually living in urban Korea with white collar jobs?

Being around Koreans as a non Korean, especially in another country, is vastly different than being in Korea. As someone below asked, if your friends are not living in urban Korea working white collar jobs this is likely less relevant. OC's friend was most likely half joking, half not.

>Well, "socially unacceptable" if you're superficial and want to be popular and trendy.

The hardship of trying to break into an exclusive group ("popular") and working towards that goal ("trendy") is not too far off from that which looms over much of Korean culture. The fear that a social slight might cast you as an outlier, hurting your possibility of getting into such a group and undoing all your work, is unfortunately well founded. In the Korean language, if one is an outlier in a group, the word used to compare them to the rest is not "different" but "wrong."

You also imply that one's own sense of identity should be the main view considered, over the "superficial" views of others. While I agree on moral grounds, this is simply not the case in Korea.

Tablo incident: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tablo#2010%E2%80%9311:_Musical... It doesn't matter if Stanford verified his attendance--if it seemed fishy it was as good as true.

Korean Air stewards being required to do makeup training: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/05/the-k-pop... "This February, cabin crew for Korean Airlines participated in makeup training, a mandatory requirement for all new stewardesses. This year, there were more than the usual numbers in the room. Korean Air now requires male cabin crew to attend -- and to learn how to blush and bronze themselves."

https://www.businessinsider.com/plastic-surgery-in-south-kor... "In fact, a 2016 survey by Saramin, a Korean online job portal, found that more than 60% of human resources personnel feel an applicant's appearance affects his or her candidacy."

In a country where photos are usually required with applications for jobs that are expected to last you your lifetime, would it be superficial to use makeup/photoshop in your photo? At least nobody in Korea thinks so.

Not mentioned: Korea espouses a ton of misogynistic attitudes towards women

> lot of men wear makeup as well

I was in Seoul a few days ago and I didn't notice any makeup on men.

I had heard that standards of appearance are high there, so I had this expectation going in. And it was certainly true of the women, though I didn't notice this being true of the men, except maybe a certain more fashionable crowd?

If you don't wear makeup, you will often not notice others wearing makeup if they use just enough to enhance their natural appearance and hide blemishes.

Some anecdotal experience: I travel to Asia for vacations and majority of the time, I catch a minor cold. The endless coughing and runny nose can really sap my energy. A friend suggested wearing a mask. Once I did, the air I was breathing became warmer and my throat and lungs felt less dry. It really helped a lot. I was glad there were so many others around me wearing masks so I didn’t stand out at all.

I have nasal allergy. Sometimes the allergy manifests itself persistently, but as soon as I put on a surgical mask, the runny nose and irritation just stops completely.

I believe there's an association between dryness of airways and possibility of airway infection (though it's not linear, IIRC the extremes are worse)

Yes! I was in delhi and kathmandu and wished that i had some mask to filter out the awful air pollution. My lungs and throat felt sore, and in the end i developed a cold which eventually led me to being bedridden for a day. I cant fathom how the regular people can tolerate that toxic from day to day, it's just awful. Maybe they cant but the overabundance of mopeds and lack of sidewalks makes me think otherwise.

This is actually one of the reasons: to prevent the wind and cold from entering the body [1]

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditional_Chinese_medicine#S...

I lived in Taipei in the 1990s and have been back many times since. Prior to 2002, I rarely would see people wearing them while riding scooters, but never anywhere else. After the shock of SARS, that changed - people starting wearing them on subways, airplanes, on the street, etc. It was a major urban public health panic, and the building quarantines, airport health checks, and media coverage freaked people out.

15+ years later, it's not pervasive. Last summer when I went back I spotted a few people on the subway and airplanes wearing them, and it's pretty widespread among scooter riders, reflecting (I think) a sensitivity about air quality along with a mild concern about catching something from the people around you.

"Why people in East Asian countries wear surgical masks in public (2014)" would seem to be a more accurate title.

As others say, in Japan specifically, it is a cultural-courtesy thing and is about not getting others sick rather than preventing yourself from getting sick.

With the air pollution drifting over from China into Korea, pollution indexes are reaching near-Beijing levels on some days, and air filter masks are becoming much more popular in Korea, across all gender and age groups. For this purpose, people aren't wearing any fancy masks with designs, but rather just plain white masks (except for children, who get their cartoon character masks). In the wintertime, people also wear cloth masks (often black) more to stay warm than for filtering purposes. And finally, some people wear masks in the office when they are sick so that they don't transmit their cold to others.

Why the linked page and nobody don't mention about the hay fever?


If you are living in Tokyo and you have pollen allergy, you too will wear masks all day.

Came here to post this. Japan has vast plantations of cedar (sugi) forests and a huge percentage of Japan's population is allergic to the pollen, which in spring can be seen in quantities large enough to form visible clouds.

When I lived over there, I only asked one guy why he wore the mask and he said allergies. After that I think I just assumed that was what it was about and the west had somehow bizarrely misconstrued it as being virus related. I wish I had asked a few more people now...

Does this also affect tourists? Since I don't live in Japan, I wouldn't expect to have an allergic response to a Japanese native tree.

I moved from Florida to Austin, to a neighborhood abundant with cedar trees and I went from never having seasonal allergies to owning every single allergy-mitigant device in existence (neti pots, hepa filters in every room, etc).

I honestly don't know if I've had a day without an allergic reaction in the last decade (the time I've been in Austin). My sinuses are a complete mess and I have to eat low inflammatory diets, give myself allergy injections, pop sudafed, etc.

That question is unsettled. Some say you are immune to the pollen allergy if you grew up to the adult without allergy. Some say you will develop allergy even after entering the adult age if you are exposed to a lot of pollen.

I was born in Japan and am living in Tokyo for 6 years. I have no pollen allergy for now fortunately.

The reverse would seem more likely - surely a native population is less likely to have a reaction to a native tree - otherwise adaption to their environment is fairly poor....

Allergies work differently from things like lactose intolerance: you are not born with allergies but develop them as a sort of misclassification from your immune system. Thus if you haven't been exposed to something you are unlikely to be allergic to it.

The article does imply that hay fever is a big factor when it references air polution and pollen from Japanese cedars.

> Then, in the 1950s, Japan’s rapid post-World War II industrialization led to rampant air pollution and booming growth of the pollen-rich Japanese cedar, which flourished due to rising ambient levels of carbon dioxide. Mask-wearing went from seasonal affectation to year-round habit.

I do this, and I'm not more than 12.5% Asian. I bought a few colored ones online because plain white surgical isn't a cute look. I do this because I don't want my lips/ nose to get dried by wind. Scarves sometimes aren't as good, but I'll probably be wearing both half the time.

I'm a (partly) Asian American on the east coast and the weather is exactly why I wear them. It keeps my face warm and moist.

In SE Asia, you don't wear a mask to protect you from other people's germs. You wear one to indicate to other people that you are currently unwell, and protect them from your germs.

The article is pure uninformed speculative bullshit

The article does state this reason.

> A second global flu epidemic in 1934 cemented Japan’s love affair with the facemask, which began to be worn with regularity during the winter months—primarily, given Japan’s obsession with social courtesy, by cough-and-cold victims seeking to avoid transmitting their germs to others, rather than healthy people looking to prevent the onset of illness.

Here in Vietnam they also use it to cover their faces from the sun. Having a white skin is the beauty ideal.

Well also the dust particles everywhere, which literally give you lung cancer.

Saigon and Hanoi can have very high AQI (it's no Beijing, but still dangerous)

Surgical masks don't protect from PM2.5 particles.

This is commonly stated, but untrue. Here are a couple of studies on this topic. [1] [2] And the always critical third link. [3]

The nature study carried out specific tests and indeed surgical masks did surprisingly very well at blocking particulate matter all the way down to 1 micrometer, with a significant effect on much smaller particles as well. PM2.5 = 2.5 micrometer / 2500 nanometers. The NIH study compared the health effects of individuals with/without masks in everyday activity in Beijing.

I think the assumption is that if the particulate matter is smaller than the size of the 'gaps' within a mask then it would be ineffective. I always just visualize a simple experiment. Imagine shooting a stream of particles of a given size at a wall. Now interject a 'net' of practically any size. Now interject multiple 'nets' (as is the case in typical surgical masks). It becomes clear that even quite large large filters will have a non-zero effect on stopping matter far smaller than the max size that can make it through.

[1] - https://www.nature.com/articles/jes201642

[2] - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662779/

[3] - https://sci-hub.tw/

In Vietnam most don't wear surgical masks. We use fabric ones generally out of cotton.

They do protect against larger dust particles while driving, which is why I wear them, but as said above, Vietnamese mostly wear them to protect skin from the sun. The higher quality masks are really just too hot to wear as they do not breath enough.

There is something called a Lead Ninja, which is a woman on a typical motorbike (Honda Lead), dressed head to toe completely covered... to the point that driving is dangerous because they can't even see where they are going. There was a funny blog post about driving etiquette here a while back [1] that is sadly pretty spot on.

What gets me is the general lack of wearing eye protection while on a motorbike... not only do your eyes dry out more quickly, which affects vision, but the dust and bugs getting into the eyes makes driving almost unbearable. I don't know how they do it here. Solution is literally $0.85 clear plastic glasses found everywhere on the street.

[1] https://matthew-pike.com/how-to-drive-a-motorbike-in-saigon-...

huh after experiences otherwhere in Asia, Vietnam is very void of bugs, compared to Thailand for example. Someone told me it's mainly because of napalm in the war. Who knows

Napalm seems like a bit of a stretch.

My experience is that it is because of the high number of swallow bird houses.

If you drive around (I've driven most of the southern end of VN and Cambodia), the multi story, windowless buildings are everywhere and in towns with a lot of them, far fewer bugs. The Vice article quotes 4200 houses... my guess is that it is 10x higher than that.

I'm currently in Hoi An and there is a ton of bugs here and not as many bird houses.




Pure anecdote, but when I was visiting Vietnam (Saigon and Can Tho) recently, I would go up to the rooftop balcony in the evenings and watch the birds and then bats out hunting their (insect) dinners. It stuck with me, because the numbers of birds and bats seemed much higher than I would normally see in the urban Midwest here in the US.

yeah you are right. (I am in VN and I wear KN95-certified mask, that does protect against those.)

I often wear a mask during the Winter months in London too. Mostly because the majority of people on the tube are absolute disgusting pigs. They cough and sneeze without holding their hand in front of their face or making any other attempt to cover it up.

Sneezing in their hand helps to spread it to everything they touch. The best thing would be to cough/sneeze in the arm.

The best thing is actually coughing/sneezing into your shirt (by pulling your collar over your nose).

Make sure to get your flu shot every year.

Located in Beijing.

Besides the usual usage of the mask, I have noticed something different.

Since last year, I have seen more and more people wearing non-surgical masks in public, esp the young ones. The strangest thing is that the mask is pulled down to the chin and totally defeats the purpose of the mask.

I have seen too many and started wondering what the heck was going on. after some searching I found that it's more of fashion reason.

You see, with the mask covering your chin, your face looks smaller. I remember watching a video that a girl showing the difference between with and without the mask. She def looks cuter without the mask.

I think hiding your identity and not wanting to be recognised by your co-workers/old school friends/exes is a big reason in Japan. Surgical masks just have the handy excuse built in: "Oh, I felt like I was getting a little bit of a cold".

I was walking down the street in Japan and walked past my company's receptionist wearing a mask. We made eye contact but she didn't react in the slightest. That only added to the awkwardness when she found out we were both going to the same party only minutes later...

This is definitely true for attractive females employed in Japan's myriad sex businesses. We don't have a decent rail system where I am so it's most noticeable in the airport: you constantly see women in facemasks, wearing baggy velour jumpsuits that don't <i>completely</i> conceal their physique. High probability they are gravure models who came to shoot a beach/tropical video, or they worked in the sex clubs for a bit. The facemask definitely helps maintain anonymity when they are out in public and don't want to be accosted by creepy fans.

Seems to ignore the main reason people in Japan wear masks - Sugi induced hay fever which seems to increase in intensity every year.

Just because the masks predate germ theory and pollution theory doesn't mean there isn't a connection.

Traditions & religions have long protected against health risks millenia before we understood those risks medically (religious washing of the hands, wiping with the left, separating pork from other meet, avoiding the sick, adding alcohol to water)

I’m living in japan and the thing I hear a lot (a japanese people told me this) is that they don’t wear the masks only out of courtesy. It’s also because not only they don’t want to get sick, but because they will lose holiday days if they don’t have doctor’s note. So just having a flu / slight fever is not sufficient reason to get the note.

I think you mean a Cold and not Flu they are quite different things

One of the other interesting reasons. A girl may not have done her makeup for the day.

I don't know about Japan, but I can confirm that in Kazakhstan doctors actively encourage sick people to wear surgical masks, specifically to prevent them from infecting others.

Disclaimer: I'm not Kazakh myself, but my wife is.

I noticed this while in Beijing, people wear them more for anonymity on pulic transportation than for health reasons.

Have any Westerners here tried wearing surgical masks in public? What was your experience like?

One of my friends who has lived in Japan a while (10+yrs, speaks fluent Japanese) said he did it once. In his mind, he was just trying to conform to local customs. He said people looked at him like he had Ebola. I guess their thought process was "normally foreigners don't wear masks when sick, so a foreigner with a mask must be DEATHLY ILL and CONTAGIOUS".

He said the reactions he received that day were so bad he'd never wear one again.

I've worn them while on bikes in Hanoi. The air pollution is terrible there. Nobody seemed surprised/concerned, just as no one reacted to my wearing a helmet. It's just PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Safety first.

I wore such a mask in Bali, usually when being on a motorbike. People use it as a protection against the street dust. I thought it was quite effective and I got used to it quickly.

Very interesting. I first ran across this in a youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xDAjGv5Cwc, and I wondered what it was about.

Anecdote: I am right now travelling in a metro train bound for Tokyo. Of the 17 people around me, 12 of them have masks on them. Pollen allergy is one that could explain such high numbers of masked people at this time of the year.

When I see it in Toronto it is usually groups of people (2 or more) and it's typically in urban environments. COUld it be pollution more than germs for some? (they do mention smog in the article).

I have considered it for avoiding ubiquitous video surveillance and face recognition. Plus also worried about pullution, though dont know how much protection it provides in taht sense.

Well, it certainly stops you from touching your own face, nose, mouth with your hands, which probably has a positive health impact.

This was a fascinating read. I've always wondered about that.

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