Why do Japanese people still wear face masks on the street? Officially, we are allowed to be mask-free but, in reality, everyone on the street in Japan still wears a mask.
Recently, I was talking with a Japanese coachee about how unconsciously we use “should” in our conversations. “Do we wear masks because we think we ‘should’ wear them?” I asked.
The coachee instantly replied, “NO, I am wearing the mask not because I should but because I want to!” It was very unexpected and I needed to make sure she truly meant it. “Do you really want to?”
“Yes. In the beginning, it was uncomfortable but now I feel quite comfortable. Without a mask, it feels like I’m naked!” She answered after carefully checking her feelings.
Feeling naked without a mask! That was a shocking and powerful reflection about the face mask! Even before this dialogue, I was thinking that Japanese people became hidden behind face masks as if watching the world from peepholes.
This situation reminded me of burqas and hijabs that are criticized by Western cultures as symbols of restricting women’s freedom. I wonder if the mentality of people with such Muslim clothes covering up their whole bodies or parts of their bodies is similar to Japanese people wearing face masks.
A Malaysian woman with a hijab told a good friend of mine that she was embarrassed to show her hair because she felt naked.
In just two years, a mask habit became a culture of people and created social norms to feel embarrassed without it. Thus, if people in some cultures have hidden parts of their bodies for thousands of years, it must feel extremely awkward and mortifying to expose the hidden parts to the public.