I was watching a documentary called World War II in Color and HD when I noticed that some pre-WWII footage of Japanese people getting off a train showed a man and woman wearing face masks. I thought masks were quite a modern thing here, so I was surprised and looked up the history of masks in Japan. It actually turns out that they’ve been used for almost a century.
Masks were first made in Japan in 1879, and were originally for use in industry. They were not the disposable type that are common today, and they were black or blue so that they did not show the dirt. The masks were built on wire frames and were not very comfortable. During these years, however, they were not common and were worn mostly by factory workers.
There was a worldwide flu pandemic between 1918 and 1920, and it arrived in Japan around 1919. Interestingly, it was the H1N1 Virus, the same bug which made headlines again in 2009, that gave rise to cold masks. The flu epidemic killed between 50 and 100 million people around the world, and 390,000 people in Japan. Masks became common in many countries, including Japan.
The Japanese government put up scary posters like this one. It says, “Beware of cold-causing germs! You’re risking your life if you don’t wear a mask!”
There was so much demand for the masks that makers could not keep up with it, and decreased the quality of their products in order to increase their production. After the epidemic, masks remained popular, and designs were improved. The wire frames were replaced with celluloid and the filters were made more effective.
In 1934, there was another big influenza scare, and masks became even more popular. Every time there was another outbreak, they gained in popularity, and the quality and comfort became better.
After World War II, when Japan began planting huge forests of cedar trees, it caused an epidemic of pollen allergies. Today, almost 30 percent of people suffer from hay fever, making masks even more popular.
One other reason that people wear masks is Japan’s guilt-based morality system. People don’t want to give other people colds, but they feel they have to come to work. They don’t let their co-workers down, so they wear the masks in order not to give other people their germs. However, the WHO warns that there is no evidence that masks stop the spread of disease in community settings, and that using them improperly (which pretty much everyone in Japan does when they take them off repeatedly) can actually be more dangerous than not wearing one.
History of cold masks with lots of old masks, ads, and illustrations (in Japanese): http://www.tpa-kitatama.jp/museum/museum_06.html
History of cold masks (in Japanese): http://www.mask.co.jp/osato/mamechishiki/rekishi01.htm
WHO information about masks: https://www.meanwhile-in-japan.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Adviceusemaskcommunity.pdf
Traditional Japanese construction worker clothes are called tobi shouzoku. The men and women who put up Japan’s buildings have been getting a lot more fashionable recently if these catalogs from a clothing company in Okayama Prefecture called Kaseyama (site is Japanese only) are any indication.
The baggy pants are called nikka-pokka-. The reason that construction workers wear them is that the loose fit allows them to stretch their legs out comfortably when climbing around on buildings. Some construction workers also consider them to make their jobs safer. The baggy pants tend to get caught on things, making them more careful when they are working in high places.
All these clothes are being modeled by real construction workers, and I read that you can see these clothes on construction sites, but it’s kind of hard to imagine. If anyone out there has a picture of someone wearing this kind of stuff on the job, I’d love to see it.
Regular tobu shouzoku run around 6,000-8,000 for the pants and 4,000 to 7,000 yen for the tops, but these high fashion ones seem to be around 30,000 or more.
Man at the Taisho Matsuri in Yono Saitama, a procession of people dressed up in costumes from the 1920s. It’s held on the last Saturday of October every year at Yono station on the Keihin Tohoku line, about 30 minutes from Ueno. It’s quite a small festival, but well worth a visit if you live in Saitama. For more information, visit: http://www5b.biglobe.ne.jp/~taisyou/
I quite enjoyed the costumes in the Tokyo Marathon, but I couldn’t help wondering if there isn’t something a little passive-aggressive about them. On the one hand, people wearing costumes are saying, “Hey, look. I’m just out here having fun in my costume. I don’t take this seriously.” But on the other hand, if I was out running my heart out in a marathon I trained six months for and some guy dressed up as Doraemon ran past me, I don’t imagine I’d feel too good about it.
Although they’re becoming rare, some people still have traditional Shinto weddings. Today’s photos are from a wedding at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. It’s a good place to catch a glimpse of bridal parties, and you have a good chance of seeing one if you’re there on a Sunday afternoon.
Japanese people usually give cash rather than wedding gifts, and the money is given in these ceremonial envelopes.
January 12 was sejinshiki, Japan’s Coming of Age Day. All over the country, ceremonies are held to celebrate people who turned 20 that year officially becoming adults.
Bird man street performer
- Architecture and interiors
- Dolls and Sculpture
- Japan Blogs and Websites
- Kids and Toys
- Living information
- Martial Arts and Sports
- Osaka, Kyoto, and the Kansai Region
- Pop Culture
- Street Scenes
- Tokyo and the Kanto Region
- Traditional Japan
- Travel Destinations
Disclaimer: Meanwhile-in-Japan.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.