Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Dangers of Face Masks

It is winter in Japan, which means face masks have sprouted everywhere, like bright white mushrooms in the underbrush of a forest. People wear them to avoid passing their germs to others, to avoid getting germs from others, or to hide the fact that they overslept and didn't have the time to shave or do their makeup.

But face masks don't eliminate exchange of all dangerous germs and in fact they can cause problems of their own…

Problem 1 – Cold-medicine induced zombiness. Case in point: the hordes of salarymen bombarded by tv commercials reminding them that no matter how sick they get, no matter how cruddy they feel or how many germs they are oozing, they CANNOT TAKE A DAY OFF! Instead they must pump themselves full of cold medicine and gaman-on (gaman – persevere, soldier on). The result is hordes of drugged and foggy salarymen lurching through stations as they transfer, and dozing even while they stand on the train. Although they are normally nothing more than a nuisance, beware of getting stuck behind one of these guys on a flight of stairs or walking along the platform as the snail's pace shuffle they adopt will be sure to ensure you miss the transfer you want.

Problem 2 - Deep throated snorting. Case in point: the salaryman sitting beside me on the train one morning last week, mask firmly over nose and mouth, snorting and snirking away with much vigour. He had no way of brining whatever was bothering him out, so it had to be pushed further back in. He would make vile noises in the back of his throat every few seconds and every minute or so one of the other salarymen standing around us would chime in with his very own counterpart. A not so musical and deeply disgusting symphony.

Problem 3 – Facial obstruction. Case in point: the woman standing in front of me the other day. I blearly opened my eyes part-way through my commute to figure out where we were and saw a woman standing in front of me. Her down jacket puffed out around her, but her stomach area looked particularly puffy. I glanced to her bag, looking for the telltale "baby on-board" tag expectant mothers here are given, but couldn't spot one. As I was trying to decide whether my guess was correct or not, and whether I should offer her my seat, I noticed a stubble-covered Adam's apple peaking out from below the mask on the woman's face… Since, despite the puffiness, it was rather unlikely that he was pregnant, I decided I could stay in my seat in good conscience, but still felt a nagging worry as I surveyed the sea of masked faces standing around me.

Bring on spring! Oh wait, spring means even more masks with the onset of allergy season...

12 comments:

  1. I hate masks too... reading your stories makes me more and more happy that I live in the countryside where my commute to work only involves me and my car!

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    1. Yes, but I'm guessing you don't get to nap on your way to work? ;) But you almost definitely have better views and less chance of your feet being stepped on CONSTANTLY, right?

      I think your commute sounds much nicer too!

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  2. May I join the rant? This is one of my pet peeves in Japan. I hate it when a mask-wearing snorting hawking student gamans all the way through his working day and then - instead of behaving rationally and going home - gamans straight into a small, windowless, air-conditioned eikaiwa classroom.

    Ever tried teaching a masked stranger? You can't read his facial expressions to judge whether he's with you or not (he's not; he's too foggy) (froggy?), you're panicking that germs are seeping over the edges of the mask, you want to give him a snotklap for putting both of you through this stupid torture. AAARGH!

    That's why spring is marginally better: at least hay fever isn't contagious. Also, I'll be experiencing abject pollen misery myself, so I'll be more sympathetic.

    PS: Problem 3 made me chortle.

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    1. Rant away my dear Ru!

      And even if he does manage to break through his fog of cold medicine and lurgy long enough to follow something you said the combination of his sore throat taking his voice, the stuffed nose ruining whatever pronunciation abilities he might have, and the mask itself muffling any sound he might make means that you can't understand anything he might say either!!

      PS: Me too! ;)

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    2. I've never seen teachers wear masks in class. I know foreigners don't really go for masks - I've tried it in spring, but it makes me feel claustrophobic - but there seems to be an unwritten rule that a teacher's face should be visible. Makes sense, huh?

      PS: Non-contract teachers also gaman. No work, no pay.

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    3. I've started wearing facemasks when I have a cold, mostly because my commute is long and the trains are packed... But I hate the masks. My glasses fog up, my face feels overly hot and sweaty... Ugh!

      Lucky students get germs along with gems of English from their esteemed teachers? ;)

      PS: Hourly wage curatorial assistants are in the same boat! Although I can theoretically take all the time off I want to without having to worry about rescheduling classes, no work equals no pay! Sigh...

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  3. Wait. Woa. Why is this post dated November 2012 and I only got it in my blog feed today? (@_@) I see Jo also responded today, so I'm not mad. Maybe.

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    1. Ooops! I started it back in November and *thought* I managed to change that when I posted (today) but apparently not... fixed now!

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  4. I take a day off without gaman, when I feel bad. I guess that I'm not a typical salaryman, haha.

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    1. Good! Japan needs more a-typical salarymen! You're much more likely to get better faster and be more productive if you take the time off work when you need to!

      That said, I hope you don't have to! :)

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  5. I wore a mask once, at Oji byoin when I had the flu and they gave it to me because I was coughing. I was too bleary eyed to see the mask dispenser at the front door.

    It was horrible. You can't wipe a running nose - too indescribably gross for words. Horribly claustrophobic and (probably psychosomatically) seemed to exacerbate an asthmatic cough as I struggled for breath...

    Never again.

    I read something in Japan today? about girls wearing them because they look cute. And others wearing them to hide acne.

    Found the article.... disturbing.
    http://www.japantoday.com/category/lifestyle/view/more-japanese-youth-wearing-surgical-masks-to-hide-their-face

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    1. Shudder! Shudder! Ugh ugh ugh!

      Although, after my commute this morning where everybody on all sides of me was coughing I'm about ready to wear one with preventative hopes!

      And that link? Disturbing. Sigh.

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