Mask use in Japan

Japan fully opened to foreign tourism in October, and my wife and I took advantage of the opportunity soon after that. While there, we noticed that COVID prevention practices there are quite different from here in the US:

  • Every business establishment has hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrance. Most of the bigger businesses (e.g. department stores) also have automated video pyrometers at the entrance that track your movement and measure your forehead temperature as you walk by (though I have no idea what would happen if they detected an abnormally high temperature).

  • Every restaurant has plexiglass dividers that separate your table from your neighbor’s table - and in some cases, dividers that separate one side of your table from the other. Every business also has plexiglass dividers or vinyl curtains that separate you from the cashier.

  • Most notably, everybody wears masks everywhere in public all the time. Even outdoors, even in the middle of sparsely populated city parks. Eating in a restaurant? Leave your mask on until your food shows up, and take it off just to eat. Keep your conversation minimal in duration and volume. Honestly, I could count on one hand the number of unmasked people I saw on any given day.

To be fair, Japan only recently came down off of their worst COVID surge ever (and cases are now going back up), but from what I understand, Japanese folks may be wearing masks for a lot of reasons other than disease prevention - the primary reason being simple peer pressure, i.e. “I’m wearing a mask because everyone else is wearing one.” This video offered an interesting perspective on the issue, pointing out that the widespread use of masks is not without its downsides and predicting that masks will remain very popular in Japan long after the COVID pandemic has faded away:

In some circles, the mere assertion would be enough to label you a MAGA-ite. :slight_smile:

Yeah, I don’t disagree with that.

In my church there was less attendance with a mask mandate than without. (A few people still wear masks some or all of the time.) Which likely meant that some people won’t come if a mask is required, it lessens the experience, OR the masks themselves indicate that things aren’t safe and they should be more cautious (which I think is a reasonable point of view.)

I also think there are likely downsides, a lot we don’t know, about isolation and communicable disease, and our immune systems. Smallpox etc. didn’t seem to work very well for the Native Americans when the Europeans came over here.

I don’t see masks as a silver bullet, some people almost seem to. I would also ask why anyone who masks in public doesn’t mask in their own homes if they live with someone else. But it’s all politicized now, even if the opinion has shifted in the public it’s still politicized.

This tallies with what we saw in Taiwan a month ago; essentially the only people not wearing masks in public were westerners (judging by accents overheard, mostly Americans I’m sorry to say). Taiwan too had just come off strict lockdowns, so it’s possible this ubiquity will wear off in due course.

No one informed, I’d venture to say. Helpful, yes! Indeed there is no real reason not, alongside other measures such as vaccination and hand hygiene.

If we’re waving away psychological impact, then there’s no reason to limit it to masks. People should avoid being in the presence of other humans for the rest of their lives.

There’s a long way between wearing masks when in public places (sensible in the circumstances) and avoiding every human for ever (paranoid or silly). I mean really!

Even before covid mask usage in Japan was not uncommon so it was easy to transition to a ~99% mask usage ratio.

@Isamu is exactly right. I used to fly JAL and transit Tokyo constantly, years before Covid, and masking was extremely common.

This sort of comparison is precisely the sort of thing that leads to people ignoring the psychological impacts,.as they are in fact much smaller than social isolation. Hell, what you described would be solitary confinement, which is full on torture.

The psychological effects of wearing a mask are there, but often are things that we could grow accustomed to. For example, if we had to be able to tell people’s emotions with masks on, then we would learn to read eyes better, use more emotive language, etc. If people wearing masks is common, that unsafe feeling will subside. You will likely find comfortable masks and get used to them, so that they will cause less discomfort and less affect you psychologically. Your body will learn you can in fact breathe even when it feel stuffy, and so you won’t have that psychological effect.

Of course it will always be easier to not wear masks, so people will choose that when they feel safe doing so. But when you look at how easy they are to wear in so many situations, it does seem ridiculous that we can’t at least get people to wear them when they’re sick.

That’s the real reason for Japan having higher masking: they already accept it as normal, and not some thing to get irrationally upset about. That’s the much bigger psychological issue: people seeing the masks as this punishment of the pandemic, something the evil virus makes us do.

That’s not the picture that the video this post is based on paints.

You’re free to have your view that people will simply shrug off the wearing of masks and we’ll forget that it ever happened. The message of the video is that the masks are stoking fears rather than quelling them.

Someone could make the same argument about guns that you make about masks, that why not encourage people to own them because they will feel safer. Personally I don’t think all gun owners feel safer. Some of them just become more paranoid.

For one, masks are not foolproof and people still are getting and will continue to get sick even when masked. I do think there’s enough evidence with RSV that in certain circumstances there is such a thing as immunity debt and we can’t isolate our way out of infectious aerial diseases, masks or no masks.

I will say that I am quite wary of the way masks are being held onto as some sort of totem. Of course social isolation is bad, of course lockdowns are bad and we won’t repeat them. But masks, well everyone will just adapt to them, they won’t have any impact on society, they’ll be completely comfortable to everyone etc. etc. etc.

I don’t want kids going to school for 13+ years masked. How can that not have an impact? The plexiglas in that video, we know that does nothing but they’re still using it. But if permamasking takes hold, you’re going to get other things that go along with it like the plexiglas and closing down playgrounds. It’s going to come right along with.

Are these still thought to be beneficial? I had heard that the dividers might be counterproductive because they just make it harder to ventilate the space adequately.

But a lot of this stuff crystalized early on. I still occasionally hear of places shutting down for “deep cleaning.”

Regarding the sanitizers, plastic dividers etc, it may be that the US is the outlier on that one. Most European countries also implemented such measures, and still have most of them, though their mandated use has ended.

Regarding masks too, it’s questionable who is the odd one for that, though for this I would put Europe in the same bracket as the US.

In the early days of the pandemic, there were a number of articles like this one in the telegraph, that smugly asserted that Asians wore masks out of culture and superstition and that of course they provided no actual protective benefit.

As we all know, the Western position on this later shifted, and apart from, yes, MAGA in the US, it was accepted that masks, even surgical masks, have protective benefit. However, for some reason there then became this meme about “masks protect others, not you” and trying to sell mask use as being something kind and selfless. I have no idea why, as any experiment showing protective benefit showed significant (though not necessarily equal) benefit both ways.

So again: who is the one behaving weirdly, with weird beliefs here? The only argument against masks is that covid is so contagious that we’ll all get it eventually whatever we do. But even if that’s true, reducing how quickly new strains ripple across the population is still beneficial, plus masks will help with the spread of other airborne pathogens.

I don’t personally wear masks, because, like most Brits, I’d rather risk getting the virus (again) than have daily hassle. But I totally accept another society coming to a different conclusion.

Yes, this was done everywhere I went in the UK and mainland Europe. Was it not a thing in the US? Most of these measures have gone now, but I still see hand sanitizer in many shops and sometimes plexiglass at shop counters. The barriers in restaurants have all come down though.

I agree, I wish people with colds would get back in the habit, as they have practiced in many Asian countries for a while. My colleagues are all ridden with cold now that the germs are allowed to run wild again, and I do think if you have a cold or flu, it would be nice for the rest of us if you wore a damn mask.

The combination of a mask and a plastic divider often made it difficult to hear - with the result that the cashier/clerk often stuck their head out to the side to interact with the customer. We visited a post office in which the vinyl curtain in front of the clerk was torn in the middle, and every time the clerk wanted to speak/listen to us, she would spread the two halves of the curtain and poke her head through.

You say that, but then:

you make an argument against masks (if only for yourself). I’ve favored masks during the height of the pandemic, but like you I find them to be a hassle. There were many times in Japan when I wanted to remove mine and enjoy some fresh cool air on my face, but I didn’t want to be the Ugly American so I kept it on. According to the CDC my home county is currently at a “low” COVID community level, and they don’t even recommend masks for healthy individuals until the level is high. Under the current conditions I’m inclined to start going about my day without a mask.

Not universally. I’ve been in a couple of grocery stores that have clerk shielding, and one pay-at-the-front diner that did so as well. Home Depot (a US home improvement store) does so as well. OTOH, the neighborhood hardware store does not, and neither does the other pay-at-the-front diner that I’ve visited. A local Indian restaurant went super-safe for the first 18 months of the pandemic: they shut down their dining room completely, and only sold prepay-online takeout from their patio area: walk up, ring the bell, say your name, and they’d set your order on the outdoor table for you to grab. Lately they’ve opened up for business as usual: full indoor dining, and takeout pickup happens at the indoor front counter, no shielding of any kind. I haven’t seen any sanitizer available in any of these places.

You’re right; in one case I was referring to public policy but it’s true I could have put that clearer.

My main point was just cautioning against the trend I’ve seen of describing this as a weird eccentricity of east Asians.

When like I say, in the West, we’ve gone from making fun of mask wearing, to mandating them ourselves (complete with a “debate” replete with misinformation), to, again, making fun of Asians even while hospitalizations for covid remain high.
We look a lot weirder than they do.

I’m not accusing anyone in this thread of pointing and laughing, just saying this seems to be a trend in the media.

Mask usage isn’t going to move the needle on hospitalization rates. With the caveat that I do not care about people hospitalized “with Covid” in addressing the issue. If they just happen to have Covid, testing positive at the time they were admitted, that is not a concern of mine in addressing the Covid issue.

Hospitalizations are primarily driven by those still unvaccinated and very vulnerable cohorts. Mask mandates do not help either of these issues as a proximate cause. You can argue that people should mask or social distance because a friend of a friend knows someone vulnerable. That is not a primary or proximate cause, it is a secondary or teritary cause. I do not wish to burn our limited political and social capital on such low or no gain issues. Because our political and social capital is limited, by definition we will never reach many issues on anyone’s ideal to do list. Persuading the unvaccinated to get vaccinated, and protecting on a direct basis the vulnerable as best we can.

We can probably protect the vulnerable better by giving free high quality masks to them than by forcing other people to mask up and wasting political and social capital in so doing.

At some point, all methods of mitigation are statistical in nature. So you figure the odds, and decide what you’re comfortable with. The risks from interacting with one or a few people whom you know, and can evaluate their risk factors, and who have a vested interest in maintaining your health, is always going to be lower than interacting with a large group of strangers.

There’s also the comfort factor. Wearing a mask for an hour while shopping is less of a burden than wearing it all day at home.

You do your risk/benefit/burden calculation, and then figure out where your comfort zone is in all that.

Masks protect others better than they protect you. In particular, crappy fabric masks do a LOT more good to protect others from you than to protect you from others. For instance, surgical masks were mostly invented to protect the patient – they prevent the surgeon’s breath from getting into the unprotected interior of a patient who’s been cut open.

Respirators with a tight seal also significantly protect the wearer. But the US had a crazy shortage of those, and only had access to fabric masks, and those only do any good if everyone wears them.

This is just silly. Each person you interact with represents a separate risk of infection. I live with two other people. I interact with hundreds of other people when I go shopping. I can get something like 95% of the benefit of masking by wearing one about 3% of the time.

Now, when my husband went to NYC when so many people were dying of covid that they were literally stacking the bodies in refrigerator trucks (his mother was dying of a stroke) we quarantined in the home after he returned. We slept in different rooms, and wore masks when we were together. And when I nursed my mother while she was dying of covid, we did the same thing. Because both those times we had extraordinary risk from each other. But most of the time? Cost benefit, man. We don’t mask at home, we do mask in public.

Ah, heck. it doesn’t take a lot of learning. When I smile at a child on a train, the child smiles back, even though I am wearing a mask.

People aren’t a steady state. Unless you are taking extra measures, your household members are as likely to be contagious with something as anyone else in the world. Plus you’re exposed to them for a longer period of time. It would be the same as if you just rotated in and out random people in your household. You are at risk because you’re living with other people. Unless you are taking extra measures.

My household is not taking extra measures. We mask when asked to, which is just doctor’s offices now. My son got sick yesterday. Don’t know where he got it (school probably) or what he has. He woke up, we went to church, he was tired. He’s tired other times, I didn’t make much of it. Later he was still tired and complaining with chills. Okay, he’s sick now. Took him home, he had a fever, he slept the rest of the day and this morning. Didn’t go to school.

Now we took him to church, he probably was contagious with whatever he had, but we didn’t know. The other kids and I went to another special service later in the day. The services are well attended at this point in time. We didn’t wear masks during the services or with my son. Who do you think is most likely to infect me, some rando in church or my son? I’m betting on my son.

As an exchange student in Japan in 1973, I was surprised to see people wearing masks.