With the move to make masks mandatory in shops, the UK is slowly being encouraged towards a health conscious culture that Japan already embraced way back when the Spanish flu was a real threat.
If you’re sniffing or sneezing in the UK, someone might be kind enough to offer you a few tissues and be quietly annoyed you haven’t brought your own. It’s a fairly similar situation over here, except there’s much more awareness that you’re spreading those germs by not covering up. Like many things in Japan, it’s all about being polite and considerate of others. Get prepared with a few masks unless you want to be judged on a rush hour Tokyo train.
This year saw a sharp increase in mask demand, leading to shortages across Japan about the same time toilet paper was disappearing from shelves. The response of Shinzō Abe’s government to this was a wide scale distribution of face masks, quickly nicknamed ‘Abe no Masks’.
Due to their small size, low quality and the limit of two per household, regardless of the number of people living there, Abe no Masks attracted criticism and plenty of jokes online. They even ended up being worn as a bra by Tokyo Election candidate Kana Shindou. On top of that, mask stocks bounced back quickly enough that I didn’t even bother to use my second Abe no Mask.
Since these masks are paid for with taxes, it’s not surprising that the government’s intention to release 80 million more hasn’t received a warm welcome. Why limit yourself to the emergency masks when commercial face masks are in stock and in style?
There’s always been some variety in mask choice, but in the past, cheap, disposable white masks have dominated the competition over the reusable cloth versions. Now clothing companies are racing for that top spot in the market. Uniqlo’s Airism mask actually crashed the fashion designer’s website on release and left customers unsatisfied when the breathable mask rapidly sold out.
Outfitter ‘Another’ is just one of many companies now producing high quality masks. Their latest release is washable, has a unique case, a replaceable filter, adjustable length and a warm colour scheme.
Japan is decades ahead of the UK in terms of Mask technology, so while everyone in the West catches up Japan has time to branch out even more.
As you might expect, all sorts of anime themed masks are on offer. Masks based on major series from Demon Slayer to Doraemen are available, but the most impressive I’ve seen so far is the collection released in partnership with muscular superhero/wrestling anime Kinnikuman.
A mask for serious pro-gamers has also been picking up attention on twitter, although since it looks like wearing an electric rainbow you’ll need to be confident to pull off this style in public. Surely you won’t need to be wearing a mask inside when gaming anyway? There’s a joke to be made about computer viruses here.
A high tech mask which takes things a little more seriously is the silicon Nano Breeze Mask from Gloture. This mask contains a replaceable electric filter powered by a lithium battery. Who knew you could even fit that much technology onto your face? It might just be the last word in face masks, but even if its space-age compared to the Abe no Mask, the price tag is also astronomical at almost 10,000円.
Although alternative and high quality masks are on the rise, it’s likely that for most Japanese masks will stay cheap and disposable. Maybe the UK will get more invested in this unfamiliar healthcare routine and we’ll be able to pick up masks at every corner shop?