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Six Surprising Reasons Japanese People Wear Masks, Even When There’s No Pandemic

If you’ve been puzzling over why Japan is such a “mask-wearing society,” it’s not because they’re all super-OCD about germs. Here are six excellent Japanese reasons to wear a mask that have nothing to do with the dread COVID:

1 – You overslept

Because if this is your typical morning routine…

Japanese makeup how-to

…you can cut your makeup time in half

Japanese woman wearing face mask

2 – You woke up with the Godzilla of pimples

Japanese man with pimple wearing face mask
Let’s face it, some blemishes are even too gnarly for coverup

3 – Introverts gotta introvert

Naturally, the country that invented otaku culture is gonna embrace hiding in plain sight

4 – You have to commute in this every day

Morning commute crowd at Shibuya Station

In a country where commuters spend as much as an hour and a half, twice a day, smashed up against five strangers in a subway car, you need all the virtual privacy you can get. Whether you pretend to be asleep, buried in a book, or mesmerized by your phone, wearing a mask adds another layer of distance to the least private part of anyone’s day.

5 – It’s allergy season

Hey, wait, why do you have wear a mask if you have allergies? Allergies aren’t contagious!

Author Jonelle Patrick wearing face mask

But the people around you don’t know that. If you’re sneezing and sniffling, it’s considerate not to worry them. Even when there are no deadly pandemics around, Japanese people tend to consider other peoples’ comfort before their own.

6 – It’s the best fashion accessory ever

Fashionable japanese man wearing cool face mask
Be honest—which looks more badass?

There’s definitely a mask for every outfit…

Fashionable face masks from Gofukuyasan
…be it ghosts, curry rice, woodblock prints, or summertime goldfish
Fashionable face masks from Gofukuyasan
And a look for every spirit animal, be it cat, cephalopod or salamander…
Fashionable face masks from Gofukuyasan
You can never have too many!

These last ones are all from @gofukuyasan and are only available in Japan, but there are super awesome ones on Milanoo (who sell the introvert mask) and Etsy too!

(A special tip o’ the pandemic mask to William Chandler, for reminding me of the otakus!)

The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon!

“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly newsletter Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

Jonelle Patrick View All

Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!

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