Wearing masks in Japan has become a part of daily life for over three years and has been found to have many benefits, including protection against COVID-19 and other viruses, pollen, and sandstorms, as well as providing warmth during the winter, a sense of security, and reducing the time and effort needed for makeup application.
The goal of removing masks altogether has become less important as people have become accustomed to wearing them daily, and the idea of continuing to wear masks as a cultural norm is becoming more accepted.
Even if the Japanese government eases mask mandates, the cultural norm of wearing masks is likely to persist, and it could be a positive step forward in terms of public health and safety if people embrace this new cultural norm.
Change from “mandatory” to “optional” mask-wearing
According to Nippon TV, the rate of mask-wearing at Tokyo Station decreased by only about 4 percentage points, from 89.7% on March 13 to 85.6% on April 10, after about a month since the change. Even though it is now optional, many people still seem to have resistance to removing their masks. The commonly accepted idea of wearing masks, formed over the past three years, cannot be easily overturned, as the government continues to promote “optional” mask-wearing. At this juncture, it is worth re-examining whether mask-wearing will be eased or not.
Story of an Old Woman
There was a conversation between two middle-aged older women in Tokyo, one of them commented on a person not wearing a mask, saying, “Oh, that person is throwing away something important in life.” In urban areas, mask-wearing is seen as a way not to inconvenience others, rather than just self-protection. Older generations tend to update their values more slowly, and so even with the government announcing that masks are optional, many people still perceive not wearing one as a nuisance. While younger generations may have more rapidly changing values, it seems that many people of the woman’s age range still believe that not wearing a mask is unacceptable.
People who find wearing masks comfortable
Last May, an article with a similar theme to this one was published titled “Can You Take Off Your Mask? Will Personal Differences and Generational Gaps Cause Another Turbulence Even If the Government Says It’s Okay?” The article argued that even if the government proposed easing mask mandates, cautious attitudes would delay any change. Another point to add is that some people may continue wearing masks even if mandates are relaxed. During the pandemic, people longed to return to their pre-pandemic lifestyle and regain their human dignity, but many positive things emerged, such as the rise of remote work. It’s possible that “the realization of the comfort of wearing masks” could be one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic.
New Cultural Norm?
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the use of masks has become more commonplace around the world. In Japan, wearing masks has been a part of daily life for over three years now, and people are starting to realize that there are actually many benefits to wearing them.
Initially, the purpose of wearing masks during the pandemic was solely to prevent the spread of the virus. However, over time, the idea that not wearing a mask is a violation of etiquette began to gain popularity, and this became a secondary reason to wear masks. As a result, wearing masks became just as important as the main purpose of preventing the spread of the virus.
Benefits of Wearing Masks in Japan
Despite the discomfort of wearing masks, people have come to discover many benefits of wearing them. Masks not only protect against COVID-19 but also guard against other viruses, pollen, and sandstorms. They also provide warmth during the winter, a sense of security in not exposing one’s face to others, and even help to reduce the time and effort needed for makeup application.
As people have realized the benefits of wearing masks, they have become accustomed to wearing them daily and even enjoy doing so. Consequently, the notion of continuing to wear masks as a cultural norm is becoming more accepted, while the goal of removing masks has become less important. Moreover, not wearing a mask comes with the risk of being viewed as violating social etiquette or endangering others, leading people to continue wearing masks.
While the Japanese government has suggested that masks be worn on a voluntary basis, the likelihood is that mask-wearing will remain the norm. The first test of this will be in the upcoming summer months, when the heat and risk of heatstroke may provide a legitimate reason to remove masks. However, even if some people stop wearing masks, the cultural norm of wearing masks will likely persist.
As Japanese people have realized the benefits of wearing masks, they are likely to continue to wear them even after the pandemic has ended. Wearing masks has become a part of Japanese culture, and this new culture is not necessarily a negative development. If people can embrace this new cultural norm, it could be a positive step forward in terms of public health and safety.