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.
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.
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.
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.
I wonder how it's effectiveness compares to that of wearing a mask.
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.)").
This is stated multiple times in the article.
Seems sensible enough.
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.
I'd be curious how effective any of this is, but that would be hard to test.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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
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?
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.
One also accrues paid sick days (2 per month initially, later more).
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.
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 :/
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
>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.
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:
"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."
"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
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?
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.
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.
If you are living in Tokyo and you have pollen allergy, you too will wear masks all day.
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.
I was born in Japan and am living in Tokyo for 6 years. I have no pollen allergy for now fortunately.
> 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.
The article is pure uninformed speculative bullshit
Saigon and Hanoi can have very high AQI (it's no Beijing, but still dangerous)
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.
 - https://www.nature.com/articles/jes201642
 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662779/
 - https://sci-hub.tw/
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  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.
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.
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 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...
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)
Disclaimer: I'm not Kazakh myself, but my wife is.
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.