Westerners are generally curious about why Japanese wear masks for these reasons…
The black smoke obscures the sky, the last resort for self-protection
Many people who have visited Tokyo, Japan, whether they live or travel, are almost always facing the blue sky and white clouds in Japan. And the rich greenery of nature left a deep impression. In fact, Tokyo has also experienced severe air pollution with thick smoke and no blue sky, which has had a profound impact on Japanese society and Japanese people.
After the end of the Second World War, Japan, as a defeated country, faced a devastating task of economic and social reconstruction. The Japanese government has chosen the economic development strategy of giving priority to the development of heavy and chemical industries. Relying on coal and oil as the main energy sources, the Japanese government has built four major industrial belts:Keihin Industrial Belt, Chukyo Industrial Belt, Hanshin Industrial Belt, and Kitakyushu Industrial Belt. Various chemical companies and petrochemical plants have sprung up like bamboo shoots after the rain, and towering chimneys have become the distinctive symbols of industrial cities such as Yokohama, Kawasaki, Osaka, and Kobe.
Following is the more and more serious air pollution problem. At that time, people could see billowing black smoke when they looked up, obscuring the sky. In Tokyo, sometimes it is difficult to see the sun even during the day. The visibility in the city is only 30 to 50 meters. People in some areas can even smell the pungent smell of sulfide. The air pollution problem continued to worsen, and eventually triggered a serious public incident of air pollution represented by the”Yukaichi Pollution”, which completely affected the Japanese society’s understanding and attitude towards smog.
The Yokkaichi City in Mie Prefecture, Japan is located on the eastern coast of Japan. Its geographical location close to the ocean provides convenient conditions for the city to import oil from overseas and develop its refining industry. In the 1960s, there were more than 100 petrochemical companies of various sizes in Yokkaichi, with large and small petroleum plants. Due to the large number of petroleum smelting and industrial fuel companies in the city, a large amount of polluting waste gas and waste are generated, and yellowish-brown smog envelopes the city.
Local residents have been living in an atmosphere containing sulfide for a long time. The incidence of respiratory diseases and asthma has increased sharply. Some patients choose to commit suicide because they cannot bear the torture and pain of breathing difficulties. A local sixth-grade girl suffering from cough and asthma once wrote a poem:”Everyone looked up at the sky, gloomy and dark. The huge factory was blowing smoke, releasing toxic sulfurous acid. Today sulfuric acid is also poisoned to death. When can I return my blue sky if I lose someone?”
This poem aroused strong emotional resonance and deep thinking among Japanese people. According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, as of the end of 1972, the number of confirmed asthma victims in Japan was as high as 6,376, and 11 people died as a result. Air pollution not only harms people’s living environment, but also poses a direct threat to health. A large number of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and heavy metal particles in the haze in Japan are inhaled by the human body and adhere to the respiratory tract and lungs. The milder has difficulty breathing and coughs, and the severer died. This hazard is almost irreversible harm to the elderly and children. At that time, in order to reduce the harm of smog to citizens, the government advised citizens to wear masks as much as possible when going out.
Since then, in addition to Asthma in Yokkaichi, Japan has also developed Minamata disease caused by silver pollution in wastewater, second Minamata disease, and pain disease caused by cadmium pollution, collectively called Japan” Four major public hazards”.
On October 18th, at Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, Japan, people wore masks to participate in the”Sansha Festival” celebration. Xinhua News Agency issued
Under the pressure of bottom-up public supervision and public opinion, the Japanese government promulgated a series of bills to rectify environmental pollution. The Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law was promulgated in 1968, which raised the air pollutant emission standards to the legal level. The government has promulgated the”Pollution Damage and Health Compensation Act” and the”Occupational Health Damage Compensation Act” in response to public hazard and disease litigation, and improved legal compensation channels; in 2000, Japan revised the”Environmental Regulations on Ensuring the Health and Safety of Metropolitan Residents” to clearly stipulate severe air pollution Emergency measures to be taken in case of contamination. In addition, the Japanese government mobilized experts to analyze the causes of air pollution and realized that air pollution mainly comes from”fixed source” factories and”mobile source” cars. So Japan vigorously promotes public transportation and advocates green travel. Now, the share of Japanese family cars has dropped from 69.7%20 years ago to 38.6%, which greatly reduces car exhaust emissions.
Billions of them are consumed throughout the year, reflecting a sense of social responsibility
Since the second half of the 20th century, Japan’s ecological environment has improved significantly and the air is fresh , The blue sky is always there. However, wearing masks seems to be an important habit in Japanese society. Walking on the streets of Japan today, you will find that Japanese people wear masks and the mask culture extended by masks is very significant.
Jenny Yang, an Asian American comedian, once published a series of videos about”Ask an Asian” on the US news aggregator website BuzzFeed. In the video, one of the most frequently asked questions is”Why do Asians wear masks?” Among Asian countries, Japan is the real mask power. According to data, in 2018 (April 2018-March 2019), Japan produced 1.11 billion masks and imported 4.43 billion, a total of 5.54 billion. The annual consumption of masks after deducting inventory is 5.521 billion, which means that the average annual consumption of masks per capita About 43. This data fully proves that the mask subculture is already very popular in Japan.
“Wearing a mask and walking quickly” is the impression that Japanese have given many people for a long time. Many Japanese office workers wear masks and run in the flow of people, especially in public places, such as buses, subways, shopping malls, etc., which have become a spectacle on the streets of major cities in Japan. However, we can’t help but ask, when the smog years are gone, why do Japanese people prefer to wear masks instead of throwing off masks like the British and Americans?
First of all, this is still a convenient way to protect others and self. The Japanese wear masks in public to prevent themselves from being spread by viruses in the air, and to avoid spreading germs in conversations with others. If you have a cold or other infectious diseases, you should wear a mask to avoid spreading to others. As mentioned in the previous article, Japan began to experience large-scale environmental pollution problems in the 1950s. There was a large-scale pollen allergy outbreak in Japan in 1995, and a H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. Wearing masks to prevent infectious diseases has gradually become a living habit of the Japanese people. Environmental pollution and public health issues have jointly shaped the living habits and cultural etiquette of Japanese people wearing masks, and are also a reflection of Japanese people’s sense of social responsibility and national quality.
In addition, although the haze is gone, people with hay fever (hay fever is also called hay fever) There are many people. According to statistics, about 2 out of every 5 Japanese people are hay fever patients. Every spring, everything recovers, the flowers are beautiful, and a lot of pollen is also produced. Masks are effective protective gear for Japanese people to prevent pollen allergies. On the one hand, it is to prevent the inhalation of pollen from causing allergies; on the other hand, it can also cover the nose that turns red due to pollen allergy. In a famous Japanese cartoon”Crayon Shin-chan”, there is an episode where the protagonist Crayon Shin-chan wears a mask, worried that he will be allergic to pollen. This shows that pollen allergies are extremely troublesome in Japan.
A man wearing a mask is walking on the streets of Tokyo, Japan. Xinhua News Agency
Secondly, the Japanese maintain the unique tradition of Orientals (East Asians) introverted, humble and rigorous. This kind of restraint and humility seems a bit too humble in the eyes of Westerners and even other Asians. They even often wrap themselves up, cover their faces, do not easily expose their facial expressions and subtle changes in emotions, do not easily reveal their own emotions, and only show two eyes. Especially women, pay great attention to covering up their external image in public.
Another “safety blanket” in the “Low Desire Society”
In the 21st century, the young Japanese generation wear masks not for hygiene and epidemic prevention. Haze, its”face-covering” is closely related to the so-called”low desire society” in Japan today:the Japanese young generation (2 to 40 years old) in the age of aging advocates”Buddha”, once the otaku and otaku get out of the”homestead” , Just like the animals hiding in the dark caves are afraid to show their true faces, so they like to wear masks to hide their unmake-up”gray-headed faces”, and they don’t worry that sad or mocking expressions will be seen. After wearing the mask for a long time, I can’t take it off.”
In a sense, wearing a mask is an important mechanism to alleviate social phobia. In his book”Mask Dependence”, Japanese psychologist Yuzo Kikumoto described the gradual formation of mask dependence among Japanese citizens. It is written in the book that, especially after the end of the H1N1 flu in 2009, some people aged 30 to 40 are under pressure from work and social life all year round. Wearing masks can help them hide their emotions better. Seek inner security and relieve your social phobia. At the same time, with the increasing development of the Internet and social media, a considerable number of Japanese teenagers maintain the habit of communicating with people on social media, but they feel embarrassed to communicate with others below the line.
This phenomenon is not only particularly prominent in Japan, but also a common problem for all young generations who are regarded as aboriginals on the Internet. Headphones and masks have become standard equipment for youth groups in various countries. As if wearing headphones and a mask, everything around me has nothing to do with me. Teenagers wear earphones and masks, just like achieving anonymous communication in cyberspace, avoiding social embarrassment and psychological pressure.
Small masks contain big history, and”Mask Culture History” tells these stories in detail. Photo courtesy of the author
In short, wearing masks can be described as a very distinctive customs and local culture in Japan. When wearing a mask and appearing under the public, it seems to be back to the era of”ninja masks”. Perhaps history will always reappear in some form.
So, the Japanese public who like to wear masks is gradually changing from personal hygiene protection to seeking psychological comfort.”Security blanket” (security blanket) is a more common psychological term. It originally referred to a blanket that allows children to fall asleep more securely, but now it refers to the behavior of objects seeking security. It is particularly worth mentioning that after the Fukushima nuclear power plant leak in 2011, Japanese people were generally extremely panicked about the invisible”nuclear radiation”. What is even more disturbing is that individuals are helpless with regard to the potential disaster at hand. As a result, people think of masks. Although they may not have much effect, they can calm people’s anxiety. As a result, more people wear masks. From this perspective, the behavior of wearing a mask for psychological comfort is also in common with the religious masks of the early human society or the beak masks of the European Middle Ages.
(The author is an associate professor at the School of Marxism, Shanghai Jiaotong University)
Column editor:Gong Danyun Text editor:Wu Yue Title picture source:Xinhua News Agency Picture editor:Li Xi