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Scarves, Masks, Jackets, and Umbrellas


   Have you seen the local people wearing the white surgical-style face masks on trains and on the street? These white face masks no longer come as any surprise to most foreigners in Japan, and some of us have even adopted the practice of wearing them. Although somewhat stifling, these masks can help to keep your breath warm and moist, which protects and soothes the throat. When I have a sore throat, I like to wear one while I sleep. But I'm not sure if I believe that these masks really ward off or contain diseases. However, as I think we all know, Japan is a land prone to natural disasters. This, I believe, has developed a sense of urgency and caution in the people living here, especially regarding their health and safety. Therefore the culture is more readily accepting of tools and techniques for maintaining health, such as wearing a face mask daily. Where as in another country we might feel embarrassed or self-conscious to wear a face mask in public seemingly without reason, it's normal almost supported behavior in Japan.

   I've found my own home country, the United States of America, to be rather conservative about adopting new tools for protecting ones health. America has a history of cowboys, frontier life, and self-made men. It tends to have a culture which puts pressure on us to face the world "raw". Things like masks, umbrellas, even scarves are often viewed with disdain, as unnecessary or decorative in nature. There's an odd sort of shame, or self-consciousness when adopting these aides to one's health and protection. Naturally, America is a large country, so the culture will vary depending on where you are within it. But it is not uncommon to see Americans foregoing umbrellas, scarves and masks, and simply "roughing" out the weather with their water-proof jackets and hoodies, employing a kind of full-body armor approach to weathering the elements. You might spend an entire rainy day outside without seeing a single umbrella, which is very unlike Japan, where umbrellas appear magically at the first drop of precipitation. Many Americans opt for simplicity and function over flexibility and fashion, but I don't mean to generalize, as many Americans from the east coast tend to be more European in approach.

   I've had a few European friends comment to me that scarves are more common in Europe than in other areas of the world. It's true that during my time in France, I noticed scarves on men and women even on a rainy day in summer. Scarves make perfect sense in the climate of Western Europe, and suit the fashions of the people living there. I've been told the scarf is seen with the same mentality that face masks are seen with in Japan. That it will protect you from getting sick by protecting your throat. Although scarves are used in America, it's determined by season and not by weather like in Europe. It wasn't until I moved to Japan that I truly understood the benefits of a scarf both for both health and fashion. Although I've been told umbrellas don't enjoy quite the same amount of use and creativity in Europe as in Japan. They are used much more commonly than in America. The Japanese have a long history of umbrella use, and the iconic image of a geisha girl carrying an umbrella is seen worldwide. Still it is hard to imagine a world where a face mask would be considered fashionable.

   Have you ever thought about the way our different cultures embrace these health tools? If you have any comments or observations about Japan or your own country, we'd like to read about it.

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However you prefer, please take care of your health while enjoying Golden Week!

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