Before coming to Japan I worked for a while in a big Univeristy hospital. I remember seeing a patient wearing a surgical mask and being escorted down the corridor, whatever he had looked serious and the mask intimated contagion. I was told in a whisper he was a tuberculosis patient.
A few months later I boarded the plane to Japan, and stepping into the cabin I was shocked to see half of the passengers masked. Get me off this plane, was my first thought, what could be the matter with all these people? It was a creepy sight for one uninitiated to the Japanese way.
Now, am used to seeing face masks every day, students, teachers, truck drivers, housewives, office workers, dustbin men, shop staff, EVERYONE wears masks.
I have shunned them, ridiculed them and generally thought Japanese people had a mask fetish. Another layer to hide behind, to shield themselves from the world. I refused to wear them, it was my last bastion on the 'I am not Japanese' front.
This week I have worn a mask to bed, around the house, when driving. I wore one even to the supermarket the other day, still feeling very embarrassed, so of course, as luck would have it, the lady behind me in the queue screamed 'Esther!!! Long time no see!!! Wow how are you??? ' I wanted to crawl further under my mask, I'd been caught red handed. Mind you, she was masked too, and didn't bat an eyelid.
It is always a strange sensation talking to one whose face is partially covered. Yet it is curiously comforting, more private.
However, I still hold fast that these masks are, in my opinionated opinion, grossly missued. Surgical masks are generally most effective at stopping the wearer from passing on their disease not the other way round, at least not these cheap ill fitting ones popular here. Maybe they offer protection in reminding people to keep their hands away from their face (the importance of washing hands) or in that they keep your nose nice and warm and moist, cold viruses tend to prefer dry and cold conditions. Who knows. But the Japanese love them dearly.
In my case I sprinkled a couple of drops of Eucalyptus oil, and can inhale the warm moist healing vapors, making my sinuses feel wonderful.