Artifact | Mask

Just about any documentary on Japan will feature street scenes that include locals going about their business wearing white surgical masks. It’s said that Japanese are considerate of others and very aware of how their behavior affects those around them and the harmony of their environment. The surgical mask, which is particularly prevalent in winter and spring, is a manifestation of this outlook, as it’s worn by people who have colds or hay fever allergies in order to spare those near them on streets and trains from their coughs and sneezes. Conversely, masks are also worn as a practical precaution by those who want to avoid others’ illnesses or protect themselves from pollens or other airborne pollutants. And there are surely issues of identity and personal space that can be associated with the mask wearing.