Is the mask the new veil?

mask_train station

In my Nov. 22 column in The Japan Times, I reported that wearing masks in public has become completely normal in Japan, and promised to write here about the mysterious phenomenon of perfectly healthy people wearing masks. As I explained in the article, some of the hale and hardy wear masks to dodge other people’s germs. Some like masks because they keep their face cozy warm. And still others gobble gauze to maintain a measure of anonymity in a crowded society. But the weirdest reason yet is someone who wears a mask because they think it makes them more attractive.

2014-11-03 08.59.42

Say what?

Yeah. And it’s called date masuku. Not “date” as in a romantic appointment but date, pronounced “dah-tey.” The entymology is actually interesting, and I’ll get to that in a minute.  But first, do you remember a few years back when it became fashionable to wear big, monster glasses? These specs had nothing to do with correcting vision and everything to do with style. Well, guess what they were called? Yup — date megane. Supposedly they made the wearer look more intelligent. Hmm. I wonder.


But there’s that “dah-tey” word again. In kanji, it’s written as 伊達, which the handy-dandy online J-E dictionary Denshi Jisho defines as:

1: elegance; dandyism; sophistication; having style;
2: affectation; showing off; putting on an air; appearances; just for show

History buffs will recognize those characters as the same used by Date Masamune,  伊達 政宗 ,the legendary warrior and leader who lived from 1567 until 1636 . The story goes that Masamune’s men were a bunch of dandy dressers, and that’s how “date” came to mean “showy” but that’s probably an example of kanji being added after the fact to a phrase with the same sounds).

In any case, now we’ve got  date masuku  だでマスク、伊達マスク too, and it’s a full-fledged fashion trend as witnessed by a multitude of coverage on Japanese TV.


The text on-screen reads masuku de jibun o apīru date masuku (“Showing off her charms with a just-for-show mask!”). There’s even a beauty contest for women wearing masks.

Moving right along, there was one last topic I promised to cover: does the Japanese government recommend wearing masks? You betcha! (Although thankfully only for health and hygiene.) On a national government PR webpage on flu prevention, for example, consumers are encouraged to wear masks along with other preventative measures such as frequent hand-washing, getting flu shots and avoiding crowded places. It cautions that masks that gap at the nose or chin will not be effective, and that used masks should be disposed of quickly rather than be left lying around.

I would offer more examples but I’m not feeling too hot just now. In fact, I may be coming down with something. Which means I’d better break out the masks.

(Many thanks to model Anna Nakahara 中原杏奈 for the use of her image above.)



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6 Responses to Is the mask the new veil?

  1. To add to the list of reasons: I’ve known women to wear big masks to avoid having to deal with makeup. Also, plenty of folks with allergies wear them, as well as prescriptionless glasses, in the hopes of lessening the symptoms.

  2. Anthony says:

    Thank you Alice. As always, you are a fantastic source of information and a great writer.

  3. aimeeren says:

    hahaha thanks !! I saw your article on japan time, it has been bothered me a lot when I went to Japan this summer, why so many people wearing mask! Finally somebody answered this!
    also I’m a new blogger living in UK and I love Japanese culture, so I blog about Japan and Japanese events happen in London, please have a look. ;)

  4. Allan Murphy says:

    Hi Alice,
    Thanks for looking into this. I’m pretty sure that anonymity is a big factor. At least once a day I see someone wearing a face mask, a baseball cap /sun visor, and sunglasses. It might be “normal” but i still find it unusual.

  5. TonyJ2 says:

    Health and hygiene yes. And I wish many of my fellow westerners would take this practice up, particularly on trains and planes.
    But for fashion is a little bit wierd. So what will be the ‘date’ this time next year?

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