Many first-time visitors to Japan, especially if they come in winter or spring, often wonder why so many people wear surgical masks when out in public places. Usually, the answer is one of two things: either they are not feeling 100% and don’t want to pass their germs on to other people, or it’s allergy season and they’re trying to keep from inhaling pollen.
During cold and  flu season as well, many people wear masks as a preventative measure, in order to stay healthy even when in crowds of people or enclosed spaces.
The types of masks available in Japan are many: the disposable white surgical masks are most common, but even those are available in scented versions, some are made with silk fibers to make them softer on the skin, and some are designed to be wet with a special liquid to relieve a dry throat. Other masks combine both function and fashion. The Pitta Mask brand is especially popular. Made from a soft, foam-like material, they are available in many different colors and can be washed and reused. Some other reusable masks are designed in collaboration with Sanrio and represent beloved characters such as Cinnamoroll.
The effectiveness of masks against illnesses is often debated, but wouldn’t you rather people around you wear them instead of coughing or sneezing in your direction? Which type of mask would you choose?