Masks all around

Some of you who have visited this blog recently likely have noticed the new header image that I’ve been using.  Here it is again for future reference for the time when I change that header image.

School girls with masks

From walking around Japan for a couple of weeks in the midst of all this H1N1 hype, it’s not surprising to see folks walking around with face masks.  About half of the people on the train were wearing masks.  Even before all this H1N1 stuff happened this year, I think the Japanese were very regular users of face masks.

You would easily think that Japan was populated by a colony of hypochondriacs.  However, the idea of face masks in Japan is not so much about protecting one’s self from germs (although that is definitely one purpose), but to protect others from your germs.  Whenever somebody is sick, that person is highly recommended to wear a face mask when in public.  Especially in Japan, where you can get into close quarters with a complete stranger on the street or on the train, the mask will help lower the spread of germs.

So in Canada, there have been campaigns to sneeze and cough into your sleeve.  In Japan, there are prime time TV ads selling you the benefits of the latest and greatest in “facial fashion” (i.e. a face mask).  You can also see them readily in the drug stores with eye-catching packaging.  When I last saw face masks for sale in the durg store or supermarket here, they were in a plain blue box simply labeled “Procedural Face Masks”.  What a difference in cultures.

I have a personal side note about face masks.  In Canada, we don’t have many people walking around with masks.  You normally see Asians wearing them if you do see somebody donning this facial wear.  I had the experience once of being sick and needing to take the SkyTrain to see the doctor.  I decided to wear a mask because I had been sneezing badly and had a bad sore throat.  Maybe I’m too self-conscious, but it seemed like the guy next to me thought I was an idiot for wearing a mask.  Maybe I am reading too much into it.  But it’s not a common practice to wear a mask here, so we often think people look daft, or are daft, for wearing one.

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