Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


Everyone's Mask

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Woman on a bike, with a mask. Photo by: Carren Jao.

In Japan, almost everyone was wearing a face mask. I was surprised because you would rarely see that in any other country. A face mask is a sign of disease and, for the wearer, a source of shame. I know. A few years ago, I had to wear a face mask during a family Christmas gathering. I wore it to protect my nephews and nieces from my viral infection, but it didn't make me feel any good at all.

Apparently, people wear masks in Japan for the same reason. They want to protect others from their sickness. Again, I was struck at how considerate the Japanese were.

I later found that there was a darker side to that social etiquette.

Young man with a  mask on. Photo by: Carren Jao.
As Japan Today article survey says that 30 percent of people wore masks not for health-related reasons. A separate survey revealed that the number one reason for wearing masks was to cover their un-made up face. The second reason was to keep their face warm. The third top reason was to make their face look smaller.

Safe on the subway. Photo by: Carren Jao.
Tokyo lady in a mask. Photo by: Carren Jao.
Though I would bet most older people wear masks to protect themselves from disease, it seems a younger generation have taken this accessory on and subverted it for their purposes. Rather than show themselves to a scrutinizing public, Japanese youth are literally donning masks to blend in and not be seen. Here's one final, disturbing quote from the article:
“The nail that stands out will be hammered down” is one of the better-known proverbs in Japan. Japanese are educated from childhood to but the group before their own interests, and many people feel reluctant to do anything that would make them stand out—the most famous example being the Japanese student who deliberately gives the wrong answer when called on during class for fear that “showing off” will lead them to be ostracized by their classmates. Surgical masks give these young people another way to blend in with the crowd.


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