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 that makes people so irrational.

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. Is this for real? Hard to believe. 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 about 182,000 people dead and another 40,000 missing. This caused a great fear of disease and, as said, these masks became a part of Japanese life forever. So after a smart businessman named Takeshi Uchiyama made a patent for the “Soo mask” and became the number one seller of masks in Japan.

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 is use until today.


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…

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 foreigners as it is.

Much historical reference taken from – Thanks!