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Significance of Masks: Comparing Japan and the United States

During the Meiji era [1968-1912] in Japan, masks were made out of wire mesh as the core and used cloth as the filter. At that time, the Japanese used it to protect themselves against the fine particles of coal or metal. After the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, this mask attracted attention as a preventive product. The use of masks is no longer for additional preventative measures, but an essential preventive measure.

Masks as a Daily Necessity

In 2020, the spread of COVID-19 has changed the lifestyles of people all over the world. On May 4, the Japanese government proposed a "new lifestyle," based on the measures to counteract the spread of the virus. As a result, people’s lifestyles have changed to be more conscious of actions that impact the spread of COVID-19, by taking precautions in many aspects of life. Of course, not only in Japan but all over the world are people advocating actions to "live with" the coronavirus in an era of "new normal."

In recent months, masks have become an essential item in the public spaces. In Japan, masks were out of stock due to the excessive demand in February of 2020. Although 60 masks are normally priced at 800 yen, on some online auction sites such as Mercari and Yahoo Shopping, 60 masks were being sold for 100,000 yen. The reason for this increase in demand for masks is that it needs to wear masks every day. In Japan, many people stocked up because they were worried that the masks would be sold out.

Purpose of Wearing Masks

Even before it became common to wear masks due to the pandemic, many Japanese were already familiar with masks. According to the dictionary, there are two definitions of the word “mask.” The first definition concerns protection while the second concerns concealment. According to Senka of Shiseido, cosmetics company researches, about 55% of the Japanese women wear masks to hide their faces when not wearing make-up. Dimsdrive, an internet research company, found that about 60% of the Japanese used masks to protect against viruses such as colds and hay fever, and also to prevent themselves from infecting others (as of 2016). During the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO says that masks are needed to prevent individuals with COVID-19 from infecting others and to prevent the contraction of the virus.

Mask Wearing Habit

Wearing a mask hides half of your face. Therefore, it becomes difficult to convey facial expressions to others. According to Masaki Yuki, a professor at Hokkaido University who researched the use of different types of emoticons through the computer communication with 118 Americans and 95 Japanese, found that most Japanese looked at a person's eyes to read his/her emotions, while most Americans looked at the other person's mouth in order to read the counterpart's emotions. Yuki studied that the style of expressing human facial expressions varies from emoticon to country. From this research, it can be inferred that masks can be an obstacle to communication for Americans. Compared to that, Japanese people use their eyes to infer the other person's feelings, so it can be said that wearing a mask does not interfere with communication as strongly as in the United States.

Donald Trump, the president of the United States, is often seen in the media without a mask. At a presidential debate on September 29th, he said, “When needed, I wear masks. I don’t wear masks like him,” referring of Joe Biden, then his rival candidate. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from them, and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.” There is controversy over masks in the United States, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that the use of masks are effective. In the United States, the perception of the usefulness of masks varies from state to state. All states advocate wearing masks and also many states, especially states on the West or East Coast, such as Massachusetts and California, have mask mandates. For example, beginning on September 14, New York City began to impose a $50 fine for refusing to wear a mask when boarding buses, subways and other public transports.

What We Can Due to Protect Against Viruses

Due to the coronavirus, masks have become a daily necessity for people all over the world. This piece of non-woven fabric has also created controversies. It's hard to say that a mask protects you from 100% virus, but it possible to take some action to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. It is a great ally that protects even a small piece called masks from viruses.



Gendai Business

Hokkaido University


Nb News

New York Times

New York Times






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