Wearing Masks: what we learned from the Japanese and how it applies today
“Look at those Asians with their ridiculous masks. You’d think we’re all dirty”.
It’ s the reaction of a lot of Westerners when seeing Asians wearing masks in their country. Somehow it just seems a bit insulting to think that people need to be protected from us.
Back in 2016 we spent 7 weeks in Japan and learned a different perspective that totally changed the way we thought about masks.
We met “Nick” on our 2nd day in Tokyo. He was a volunteer at Tokyo Free Guides, a non-profit organization that helps first-timers get their feet on the ground in Japan (see my post on getting a Free Volunteer Guide in Tokyo).
During our day with him we noticed he would wear a mask in enclosed spaces and when taking public transit. Outside he would take the mask off and since most of our time with him was outdoors we didn’t really think twice about his mask wearing. It was after our day with him, when having a coffee, that he explained.
“I’m sorry about wearing a mask. I am just getting over a cold so am being careful not to spread my germs”.
Wow. It’s not what we expected.
I found this post “Why Japanese wear masks” and it corroborates what Nick said: the Japanese will often wear face masks not for themselves but to “prevent one’s own germs or sickness from spreading in public places”. It explains that the Japanese are taught from an early age about hygiene and that keeping others from getting sick is about all about respect.
It is a philosophy that really impressed us and that we’ve never forgotten.
Today, in the midst of this pandemic, I’m reminded of the Japanese.
Nobody likes to wear a mask. Nobody. I especially hate it: I have a hard time breathing, my glasses fog up, I sweat under the mask. I suffered from asthma in my late teens/early 20’s (it was brought on by a cat I had) and I sometimes feel like I’m going to have a panic attack when I wear a mask for a long period of time.
I hate wearing a mask.
Having said that, I wear a mask because it is the #1 proven way to stay healthy during the pandemic. And when I say stay healthy, I mean for myself as well as for Lissette. If I lived in a household with other family members (especially elderly) I would be even more vigilant. Because if I get sick, I’ll spread it to others and get them sick as well. Wearing a mask is the right thing to do, no matter how much it sucks.
So, I’m just amazed by the fucking idiots who just don’t get it. The fucking idiots who talk about their “rights”, “liberty”, and their “constitutional privilege” to not have to wear masks.
They’re not just the followers of the current piece of shit that’s occupying the White House. They’re everywhere. Even in Germany, one of the most progressive places around, you have mask-less protesters denouncing Covid restrictions as an imposition to their “peace” and “freedom” and comparing Angela Merkel to Hitler.
If all those people had their own little island, then I and most people would care less what they do. If all the conspiracy-believing, non-mask wearers wanted to just carry on doing what they want that would be fine. But the problem is that those people don’t have their own private island and that they’re the ones spreading the disease to people who do take the virus seriously.
Those people are being selfish, putting their perceived rights above the greater good. They don’t care about getting other people sick.
That’s when I think back to Japan and the word “Respect”. Because if you respect others, you’ll wear a mask. It might not change your thinking: you might still not be 100% sold on the virus, you might not believe that masks are as effective as scientists tell you they are, and it might not be what your political idols tell you what to do. But it’s the proper, selfless thing to do. And really, how hard is it? Is wearing a mask that much of a sacrifice if it means that in 6 months everyone can go back to living normally? It’s not like it’s World War II and they’re sending your kids out to the countryside because the cities are being bombed every night…