We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Why do people in Tokyo wear surgical masks?

Which Tokyo hotels are on sale?
mm/dd/yyyy mm/dd/yyyy
See hotels
Forest Hills, New...
Level Contributor
371 posts
478 reviews
Save Topic
Why do people in Tokyo wear surgical masks?

I'm back from my trip to Tokyo, and thanks very much to all of you out there who provided helpful information that made our trip easier and more enjoyable (and saved us some money too).

My wife and I have a question that someone out there might answer.

We kept seeing people in Tokyo, in the street, on the subway, etc., wearing surgical masks over their faces. The polution didn't seem bad, so we wondered what the masks are for?

Is it because they are scared of catching someone else's virus?

Or do the people have an illness and they're trying to prevent it from spreading to other people?

Hong Kong, China
Destination Expert
for Hong Kong, Osaka
Level Contributor
49,447 posts
130 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Why do people in Tokyo wear surgical masks?

The people wearing the masks are sick and they don't want to spread it to others. If you go to Hong Kong, you will also now see some people practicing a similar pre-caution.

Level Contributor
2,346 posts
Save Reply
2. Re: Why do people in Tokyo wear surgical masks?

It's because they want to avoid rhinitis caused by hay fever, though I wonder if a mask can completely protect them from cedar pollen.


Tokyo, Japan
Level Contributor
4,724 posts
104 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Why do people in Tokyo wear surgical masks?

1. Hay fever and allergy countermeasure

2. Prevent spread of germs, if sick or otherwise

3. Prevent contraction of other people's germs

4. (sometimes) hide face

Pacifica, California
Destination Expert
for Pacifica
Level Contributor
8,458 posts
4 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Why do people in Tokyo wear surgical masks?

I liked the ones I saw with the vampire fangs painted on the front.

Avoca, Australia
Destination Expert
for Rusutsu-mura
Level Contributor
3,485 posts
10 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Why do people in Tokyo wear surgical masks?

I use them on trains and planes, when the person sitting behind me starts coughing. In many cases it's probably just smokers cough, but I don't want to get sick on a snow vacation if I can avoid it (I do not get flu shot).

Guildford, United...
Level Contributor
6,149 posts
71 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Why do people in Tokyo wear surgical masks?

Usually because they have a cold or the tree pollen hay fever which is very common in Spring. Such masks are almost useless in avoiding the spread of germs. Nose blowing in public is considered rude in Japan, so wearing a mask avoids the most obvious problem of the runny nose. I have interviewed students who sniffed loudly all the time, more polite than nose blowing to the Japanese but very irritating for me.

Level Contributor
1,031 posts
7 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Why do people in Tokyo wear surgical masks?

I've spent quite a lot of time on Japanese trains with the sound of people sniffing several times per minute as a soundtrack. It gets close to unbearable for me but it's just something I accept as part of the culture along with all the positive aspects which make Japan a pleasant place to be.

I visited RanKing RanQueen when I was in Shibuya earlier this month to look at the quirky cosmetics etc. and saw what looked like clip on nostril filters to be worn together with the face masks for extra protection I guess!

Aoyama Dori and San...
Level Contributor
9,424 posts
25 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Why do people in Tokyo wear surgical masks?

In some cultures, sniffling all the time is a symptom of cocaine abuse. This is not the case in Japan.

The masks are available in every conbini, every supermarket, ever drugstore and in most stations at kiosks. I always buy a bunch in Japan when I find a good deal on them because I use them when mowing the lawn, working in the garden when its dusty or windy or other times when I don't want to inhale what is in the air.

Phoenix, Arizona
Level Contributor
410 posts
1 review
Save Reply
9. Re: Why do people in Tokyo wear surgical masks?

I like the 3D type, seal the face and chin pretty good. I always had one in my jacket pocket when I was there. I did wear it a few time in crowded Yamanote trains.

10. Re: Why do people in Tokyo wear surgical masks?

-:- Message from TripAdvisor staff -:-

This topic has been closed to new posts due to inactivity. We hope you'll join the conversation by posting to an open topic or starting a new one.

To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html

We remove posts that do not follow our posting guidelines, and we reserve the right to remove any post for any reason.

Removed on: 2:22 am, October 24, 2010