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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.

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