It’s scary sometimes. My two year anniversary of life in Japan is upon me in April, and it’s amazing how the brain can quickly re-classify some things that once shocked you as normal. I have to write them down as quickly as possible, before my plane of reality is skewed forever. Case in point:
Surgical masks! It’s flu season at the moment in Tokyo, and I would guess that about 25% of my office is wearing white surgical masks (yes, always white). The really interesting thing is that it’s not a Michael Jackson thing, where everyone is afraid of everybody else’s microscopic germs. Rather, in line with the “group is greater than the self” nature of Japanese culture, you wear one of these masks as soon as you feel like you might be getting sick, so as to not infect others. Thoughtful, eh?
You know this is a entrenched cultural element when you see advertising for masks everywhere, and masks sold right next to the chewing gum in the supermarket checkout line. Incidentally, the subway ad above promises a mask which doesn’t fog up your glasses. It does this by having a “nose cushion” to close the gap. If you’re like me, perhaps surgical mask-induced spectacle fogging is not something you’ve ever given a lot of thought to in the past.
If I remember back, I remember being quite taken aback the first time I saw someone wearing a mask around the office. I immediately had thoughts of Christopher Skase-grade respiratory ailments, and it must have shown in my face because I got a very amused explanation. Of course, it was just the sniffles. Being so informed, now I just casually enquire how people are without making too big a deal about it.
So, it sounds like I’ve got this mask thing well in hand, right? Well, not quite. I’m now fine with looking at people wearing surgical masks. Wearing one is another matter. When I was getting over a flu last year, I actually went out and bought a pack of surgical masks.
I opened it.
I took one out.
I just couldn’t bring myself to walk out of the house with it on. I don’t know what it was exactly. That I was too presumptuous for adopting such a local custom. That I would get looked at more than when I’m on the train reading a Japanese comic or in an out of the way place not used to foreigners. That if even I saw another foreigner wearing a mask, I’d think, “Hey, that’s weird”. Whatever the reason is, it’s a bridge I still have to cross. Who knows, maybe I’ll get over my mask complex this year.
Incidentally, when I looked up “fear of masks”, I found out it’s called “maskaphobia”. Honestly? They couldn’t dip into the Latin, class it up a little?
Finally, I posted this a few weeks ago, but it’s too cool not to post again. I’ve never seen anyone wearing a mask as remotely as awesome as this at work: