When I first came to Japan as a visiting relative, I was surprised to see so many people wearing masks. “What’s going on? Is there an epidemic?”, I curiously asked my sister who is married to a Japanese and has been living in Japan for many years. And she explained that in Japan, it is normal for people to wear masks as protection from diseases and allergies.
Back in my home country, if you wear a mask in any public place or even in the comfort of your own house, you will get that kind of look from the people around you as if you are suffering from a serious disease.
In my short visit to Japan, I could not avoid feeling weird every time I saw a number of people around me wearing masks in public places. I felt like I was in a danger zone or in a scene from a disaster movie.
Out of curiosity, I tried wearing one. I wasn’t feeling comfortable with my nose and mouth covered. I felt suffocated. I did not like it. The first time I wore it wasn’t a pleasant experience for me.
When I came back to work in my country as a teacher, I tried wearing one while writing on the board to shield me from chalk dust and as expected, my students asked me if I was sick.
Fast forward two years later in a public elementary school in Japan where I worked as an English teacher, I was surprised when one winter morning all my students were wearing mask, except me.
Most of the teachers, too, wore a mask. It was the flu season, so sick or not, everybody wears a mask to avoid catching and spreading the virus.
It is the one of the Japanese ways of being polite and considerating the good health of others. If you’re sick, wear a mask to not spread the virus.
You can’t get sick and be absent. It’s a crime! But that is, of course, an exaggeration. Japanese are very work-oriented people and being absent from work or school will be a big deal.
Masks are worn not only to avoid catching and spreading a disease but I was told that it is also a way of keeping oneself warm in winter days. Winter in Japan gets really cold so wearing layers of clothing and a mask helps to keep you warm.
So, is it a must to wear a mask? Well, come and experience it in Japan and decide it for yourself.