Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fear and Loathing in Japan: "Most Tokyoites Wearing Respirator Masks Against Fukushima Radiation!" - Simple Historical Guide to Japanese Face Masks

In a quick follow up to yesterday's post about the totally unfounded, foaming at the mouth, stark raving mad rant about how the Japanese government has "secret plans to evacuate 'the 10 million people living in Tokyo'" due to Fukushima fallout - uh, psst! Don't look now, but there's at least 35 million people in Tokyo. (Please refer to Sensationalism, Scare Mongering and the Nanny State) I found this very interesting letter from some guy ranting about nuke fears in Tokyo that just goes to show how completely maniac and irrational people are when it comes to fear of the unknown (radiation and nuclear power). Well, I think it has to do with the fear of the unknown as all that sort of thing seems to make people so slobbering crazy. 

You know like, "Who knows what fears lie in the hearts of men? The shadow knows!"

Here is a totally hilarious and comical letter from some guy that I found yesterday. This really reminds me of something that an absolutely clueless dork would write about Japan: Get a laugh out of this:

"I just returned from a 9 day business trip to Tokyo Japan and most people in Tokyo are wearing respirator masks outdoors. They are very nervous and scared, and rightfully so. I was able to bring with me a thumb size miniature Geiger Counter, a bottle of KI03, and 2 masks for good measure. The Japanese government has made it illegal for Japanese to purchase Geiger Counters for personal use claiming they are made in the U.S. and are inaccurate. Now there is a steaming pile of freshly laid B.S.! I also brought my own freeze dried food and water. I’m not taking any chances, it is serious business over there."

Great. Just great. I wonder if this is real or just the imagination of Gomer or Goober fresh off the boat from bumf*ck Iowa? This can't be real, can it? For one, I just checked on Amazon Japan and they have dozens of Geiger counters on sale... You need me to buy one for you?

Scene at Narita. Customs Officer: "Is this your luggage, sir?"
Hillbilly: "Yes, sir. The Igloo cooler with the duct tape... That's mine!"  

To change the subject for a moment, when I was a liasion between foreigners and Japanese for a Japanese company in 1984, there was this guy that they had hired from the mid-west of the United States. He had been in Japan for only two months or so but we had to send him back to the USA because he had fallen into serious clinical depression. He couldn't function at all. Poor guy. One day he came to see me and admitted that Tokyo wasn't what he expected at all and he wanted to cancel his contract and go home. What did he expect Tokyo to be, pray tell? He told me that he had thought that in Japan that there would be samurai and geisha running around and when he came to Tokyo and everyone was wearing business suits and it was a big city "Like New York city with Chinese people" (his words, not mine) he couldn't handle it. Unbelievable, yeah? True story!

But I digress...

Look at that nonsense that guy wrote. Hard to believe that such a clueless person could be sent to Japan for "a business trip" which makes this letter very suspect. This guy is totally silly or he is hawking goods... Or, maybe he is a great science fiction writer and comic book genius like my friend Andrew at It's a Wonderful Rife!

Well, I'm not sure about people being scared and nervous in Tokyo. It sure seems to me that the average person here is completely oblivious to the dangers that lurk around the corner. But the claim about, "Most people are wearing respirator masks outdoors" is laughable.

No, they are not.  Let me demonstrate for you. They say a picture speaks a thousand words. 

This is a respirator:

This is a mask:

Now, I admit, there probably are people wearing respirators in Tokyo THIS VERY MOMENT (they work for the fire department and are trying to put out a fire). But I haven't seen any "regular people" doing so - and trust that most people don't wear respirators. Dumb-foreign-letter-writing-visitor-to-Japan doesn't know the difference between a mask and a respirator. Hasn't the guy ever been to a dentist? (Uh, judging from the teeth of the guy in the green shirt at the top - maybe not.)

Many, far from "most," Tokyoite Japanese are wearing masks. Why? Many people always do. They wear them so that they don't spread diseases or catch colds. This time of year there are a very many people wearing these things because it's spring. Interestingly, and a possible candidate for the next Ripley's Believe it or Not! Spring is also the time flowers bloom and weeds grow!!!... And, incredibly that means hay fever season! (Oohs and ahhs here, please)...

Off the subject again! One time I had a Japanese ask me if they had hay fever in other countries like America so don't think that it's only the Americans who have license to be absolutely clueless!

Take my wife, please! She has terrible hay-fever. This time of year she wears a mask all the time - even inside of the house. I wrote about that once in Spring in Japan. I've also written about dumb foreigners here in Stupid Foreigners in Japan - 97% of the Bad Apples Spoil it for the Rest of the 3% - When in Japan, Do As the Japanese Do In Spite of Yourself. That's who this article is for, actually... Dumb foreigners... 

This article does have redeeming and, I suspect, interesting content: It's the history of masks in Japan. The Japanese have been wearing these things for over a hundred years folks. I must admit that even I, in my supreme greatness - and as a half Japanese kid with a Japanese mom, was taken back by how many people wear these masks in places like Tokyo when I first arrived here (I thought they looked like bank robbers!) 

So, on that note, without further ado, may I present the Simple Historical Guide to Japanese Face Masks?

History of "the Mask":

Though masks were introduced from outside of Japan in the 1870's, actual production of these sorts of masks began in Japan in 1912 in the Taisho period. Masks were made for industrial use. They were cloth with a brass mesh. This brass mesh would rust which called into question the durability of the product. They didn't become popular amongst the general public until 1919.

In 1919, the masks began to be used by the general public due to the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic. Due to this epidemic overseas, the use of the masks in Japan by the general public boomed. Manufacturers could not keep up with demand (this still happens sometimes).

In 1923, the masks became indelibly a part of Japan after the Great Kanto Earthquake that devastated Tokyo and the subsequent fires, and tsunami, left over 182,000 people dead and another 40,000 missing. This caused a great fear of diseases and, as said, these masks then became a part of Japanese life forever. Soon after, a smart businessman named Takeshi Uchiyama made a patent for the "Soo mask" and became the number one seller of masks in Japan. Hooray for the free market!

An industry is born:

In 1933 and 1934 Influenza ravaged Japan and the world again. Once again, with the illness came a boom in mask use. As the years went by, the technology and designs of these masks became more and more advanced and, in 1948, the design using a single wire to bend to fit one's face was made and it's been basically the standard that is in use until this very day. 

Boxes of cold remedies from the past. You can see that, in some pictures, the insinuation is that the cold medicines will allow one to remove the masks. 

Now, as everyone knows, the Japanese are world famous for cleanliness. You can see it in their streets and in the city. Even public bathrooms in Japan are much cleaner in general than what you see in the west. Many of the home toilets automatically flush or rinse one's derriere. There's even ones that open and close the covers and seats for you.

In public restrooms, women will often rinse off the knobs of the washlets for the next person. This doesn't disinfect them, of course, but it shows a courtesy that is uniquely Japanese. 


You'll often see Japanese wearing masks on trains and in the office as they do that as a matter of courtesy to other people too; they don't want to spread, nor catch colds... Every year, from about March to May and again from September to November and again during flu season, you will see a boom in people wearing these masks... And, during those times, masks might sell out... Especially if the mass media is spreading fear as in the case of the H1N1 flu that was supposed to kills millions of Japanese but wound up killing one old lady in Kyushu.

So when you come to Japan, Mr. or Mrs, Foreigner and you see Japanese people wearing masks, fear not! They most likely aren't doing it because of radioactive fallout or because they are about to knockoff a bank... It's probably not quite that exciting. They are wearing those masks because they have a runny nose, a cough or they don't want some old geezer on the train sneezing at them... The Japanese wear masks because they want to or have a need to; it's considered polite, proper courtesy and considerate to others. Thank god that many manufacturers offer many types and the sufficient amount to meet the consumer demand of the Japanese public.

If you do worry about nuclear fallout from Fukushima when you visit Tokyo then may I suggest not coming here at all or, if you must, at least get some rabies shots before you arrive. We already have a big enough problem with rabid, foaming at the mouth people as it is.

Much historical reference taken from - Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Useless trivia but really interesting and a funny history on masks. I never knew.

Anonymous said...

Nice set of nuke articles.

Thanks for writing them. The other ones too.

I know guys like the one in the photo with the bib overalls.
I'm not that guy, but (Hey! now:) for some reason I feel like there's been an attempt to slam yours truly?

I hope I'm mistaken.

Some of the guys in the bib overalls have an enviable life,... if they weren't in the unitedstate that is. ... and clueless for the most part. ... and warmongering, big goberment racists. (What is that you say? I digress?)

However; at the same time, a Lot of farmer types are not like that and "get" what's going on. ... Maybe you'd be surprised at how many of them do? Especially the older ones. I wouldn't mind being like them.
This guy comes pretty close to a good example:

But then again, maybe you wouldn't be surprised as things are often the same the world over, eh?

In the back of my mind I always consider the fact that volcanoes spew more radiation than mankind has ever produced, and yet the world has not been made unfit for life.

That guy you wrote about who survived ground zero - twice - was inspirational too and something I will never forget.

- clark

Mr. Nobody said...

Hello Mike,

Thanks for the article.

To what degree do you believe mask wearing cuts down on infectious disease? Do you think many wear it to some degree, for an appearance of normalcy, so others can't see their red nose or distraught face, or even almost as a badge of honour? In effect almost saying 'look at how ill I am, and yet I am still at work'.

Also, what percentage of people do you think wear it out of a sense of courtesy by distancing
themselves from others by hiding their face and emotions?

In regards to cleanliness and the Japanese, I was always struck by the dichotomy, I saw many streets that were absolutely spotless, and yet many alleyways, garden plots, backyards, and natural areas that were full of rubbish. It's as if in their front-yard where everyone could see, they were Teutonic in their mindset, and in their backyards, where no one could see, they were British. Does that still go on much anymore?

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Hi Mr. Nobody,
I'm not sure how much a mask cuts down on infectious diseases at all, but have noticed in China and some other Asian countries and territories have really started using them....
About the trash in one's place? Yep. It's weird how much some Japanese care what other people think...

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Yeah... I hear you. I wish I could be a farmer too!

Andrew Joseph said...

Hi Mike, Wonderful plug again. It seems to help! The article you wrote, is, as usual, great. The Shadow has long been a favorite of mine - what with the weed of crime bears bitter fruit et al. But dammit the best was the guy who wanted to leave Japan because it was too much like New York but with all the Chinese. Too often I tell people about Japan and then they ask me how I can eat Chinese food everyday, Fug! Well, 1 billion people can't be wrong! Chinese people... yeesh. It's like people don't want to here the truth. Did you know I actually had a friend who believed that Asian women had a vagina the was positioned perpendicular to the rest of the human race. Seriously. That was why people used the derogatory term "Slant"? OMG! I kid around a lot in my blog, and even have a slightly racist name of a blog (I never thought it was touchy until a few months ago)... but WTF?!
Do people really believe that Tokyo is scared of radiation from Fukushima rather than Godzilla? Yeah, radiation might be a concern, but why now? Are people afraid to visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki because it might still be radioactive owing to that whole half-life stuff? Probably. I wasn't. Back in the early 80s when AIDS first came out, I worked for a gov't facility that helped Ontario citizens get gov't subsidized housing... poor and the sick. We had people who were afirad to touch a gay man's hand in a handshake because they thought you were going to get AIDS. One of the things I am proud of myself was to know that I had enough brains to know that shaking hands with a person with AIDS was NOT going to make me sick. One man thanked me for the handshake saying how even family and friends refused to touch him.
Hysteria rules over brains, unfortunately. Still... I enjoyed learning about masks and respirators. Keep up the great work and free plugs!

Anonymous said...

Andrew Joseph, wrote, "... positioned perpendicular to the rest of the human race."

I had a guy tell me that too, he acted all happy about it. At the time I thought it was a really weird thing to hear from someone in a business suit and flying first class.

Back then I thought professionalism actually meant something.

- clark

Anonymous said...

For more on masks and Japanese etiquette, read the second paragraph in the "Facial Masks" section on Wikipedia:

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