People in Japan seem to wear surgical masks more and more, due to the problems caused by the pollution, pollen and germs. Yano Research Institute, a private marketing research company in Japan, says it is a Y26 billion market, while industry leader, Kowa Company, says it plans to quintuple production this year. Sendai-based mask maker Iris Ohyama Incorporate also says sales are double last year’s.
People cover their face mostly because of hay fever, according to the international press. Japan’s pollen levels are five times higher than they were last spring. “The pollen is really bad this year,” said Takeshi Nunomura, who said he coughs constantly at night and cannot sleep if he does not wear a mask during the day.
Germs can be another reason, so if they catch a cold, Japanese people prefer to wear a surgical mask to avoid spreading their germs to others by coughing or sneezing in crowded, closed spaces such as the office.
This year pollution also seems to be an alarming reason for wearing surgical masks, with media repeatedly noting the danger of inhaling tiny particles of pollution called PM2.5, which are less than 2.5 microns in size and can penetrate deep into the lungs. The consumer demand for the masks grew after the media played up the dangers, despite the statements made by the environment ministry, who said the level of PM2.5 particles is about the same as last year.
“They say a lot of these masks cannot block those tiny particles, but it makes me feel better to wear it,” said Saori Takeuchi, a mask-clad Tokyo woman walking with her nine-year-old son, who is also wearing a mask.
Masks are very popular in Japan because their cost is low and they keep small particles such as pollen to enter the lungs and create allergies, says Shigeharu Fujieda, an allergy specialist at Fukui University. “For that purpose, masks are very effective. It is cheap and safe. It seems to fit the thinking of many Japanese,” he said.