Photo: PAKUTASO
lifestyle

Nose-blowing and face masks provide deep insight into Japan’s social norms

20 Comments
By Mujo, grape Japan

Have you ever been on the train or bus with a horrible runny nose? Whether due to allergies or a cold, I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there. So what do you do? Do you blow your nose and rid yourself of the snot and discomfort? Or do you restrain yourself and keep sniffling until you can get somewhere private to blow it all out?

Back in my elementary school days, there was this one boy named Sam at my bus stop who always had a bad case of the sniffles. I mean a BAD CASE. Every time he sniffed it sounded like he was sucking jelly down his air pipes. We were the first bus stop so there was a good ten minutes of listening to him choke down phlegm before we were surrounded by enough students to drown him out. Needless to say, sniffling became one of my pet peeves from a young age.

Luckily, even in Japan, where most people refrain from blowing their nose in public, I haven’t come across anyone as bad as Sam. But why is it that many Japanese don’t blow their nose in public? And is it really a faux pas to be avoided at all costs?

Why don’t Japanese people blow their nose in public?

If you Google nose-blowing in Japan, you’ll find numerous results advising you to abstain. I polled 15 Japanese to get some real opinions about nose-blowing. Most voiced concerns about spreading germs. Perhaps obvious, but it turns out that hygiene and concern for others is a very legitimate reason.

“It’s not like I never blow my nose, but I feel bad if I can’t clean my hands after. And I don’t want to carry around dirty tissues.” – Chiho, 29

A few women respondents also mentioned that men are more likely to blow their nose in public and don’t seem to be as concerned. Both men and women’s responses used phrases such as “not in front of people” and “if no one is nearby, quietly.” This leads me to believe there is also a social element. Just as talking loudly on the train is frowned upon, sneezing is also considered a public nuisance. Many Japanese avoid drawing attention to themselves, and no one wants to be labeled as the noisy, sickly nose-blower.

One 33-year-old woman from Okayama, replied that she blows her nose even with people around. She had a very big personality that matched her opinion.

“Sniffling is way grosser than blowing your nose. It’s like eating snot. But of course, like many others say, touching handrails and spreading germs is no good either. If someone is so worried about what others think, I say just plug up your nose and wear a mask.”

Why do Japanese people wear face masks?

Image-2-facemask.jpg
Photo: PAKUTASO

Over the last week, there’s been a lot of news coverage about the coronavirus originating from China. Upon the first case being reported in Japan, leading surgical mask manufacturers have ramped up production. Japan anticipates a surge of Chinese tourists with the arrival of the Lunar New Year on Jan 25.

During flu season’s peak, I was riding the bus and upon hearing coughing and sniffling from every which way, realized almost everyone around me was wearing a mask. I could almost feel the sickness invading my lungs with every breath.

From the above examples it is obvious Japanese wear face masks to protect themselves from getting sick, or to prevent their own germs from spreading. But there are other reasons too, as I happened to find out while surveying Japanese about nose-blowing.

Reasons varied from keeping their face warm in cold weather, to hiding a breakout of pimples or not wanting people to see them without makeup.

One young woman told me it somehow makes her feel calmer. She did seem a bit shy and most of her face was covered by her hair and face mask.

One Kyoto University student told me she grew up in Ohio. During the recent Ebola outbreaks the only person in her class who wore a face mask was a Japanese exchange student. Other classmates took that as a sign she was infected and shied away from her.

Why don’t Westerners wear face masks?

Masaki Yuki at Hokkaido University, William W Maddux of Northwestern University, and Takahiko Masuda from the University of Alberta conducted a study which hypothesized that emotional interpretation differed between Asian cultures like Japan and the West.

They found that in cultures such as Japan where “emotional subduction is the norm,” Japanese would rely on minute changes in the eyes to detect emotional responses. On the other hand, in the U.S. and other nations where “overt emotional expression is the norm,” tend to focus on the mouth, which is the most expressive part of the face.

From casual observation, you might find that Westerners wear sunglasses more often, covering their eyes, while Asians wear face masks. And similarly, if you compare emoticons, Westerners change the mouth shape, while Asians change the eyes to express different emotions.

Screen Shot 2020-01-24 at 8.38.53.png

Image-3-emoticons.jpg
Photo: Creative Commons

So perhaps the saying “the eyes are the windows to the soul” is truer in Asian countries like Japan, than in Western countries. If you wear a face mask in the U.S. or Europe, you’re not only likely to be stigmatized for having SARS, Ebola, or even the new but others won’t be able to get the facial cues they need to correctly decipher your emotional responses.

Read more stories from grape Japan.

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-- Try Your Hand as a Dominator-Wielding Inspector at the Psycho-Pass AR Game in Tokyo

© grape Japan

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

20 Comments
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Both men and women’s responses used phrases such as “not in front of people” and “if no one is nearby, quietly.” This leads me to believe there is also a social element. Just as talking loudly on the train is frowned upon, sneezing is also considered a public nuisance. Many Japanese avoid drawing attention to themselves, and no one wants to be labeled as the noisy, sickly nose-blower.

But why is booger mining in public exempt from this constraint?

12 ( +13 / -1 )

Funny this is not a "Japanese thing" it is a definite East Asian thing. Same in China, South Korea, and Taiwan. The masks are a magic invisibility cloak that you can do whatever you please while wearing one and it is no harm no foul. If you are married meet a side lover, go into the love hotel, and nobody knows jack diddly. Mama-chan can go into the LV and Prada shop and nobody knows how she is spending papa-chans cash. It also panders to the social recluses that they can go out and not be seen. The magic mask makes you unseen.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

If I have a cold causing a runny nose, I take an antihistamine. Problem solved. I just don't know why 99% percent of the population here can't do the same. Phlegm gargling is extremely unpleasant for everyone within earshot.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

One 33-year-old woman from Okayama, replied that she blows her nose even with people around. She had a very big personality that matched her opinion.

So, arrogance, selfishness and inconsideration for others, is now seen as having a "big personality"?

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

The way people run to wear a useless mask in winter and an umbrella going up in summer whilst walking,has me wondering why do people even bother going outside in the first place.Looks tacky.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

My wife needs to use a UV umbrella when going out because of her sensitive skin. But it helps to stay cooler in the hot weather. The umbrella is to protect against rain but also shadow.

When visiting hospitals or in crowds these days I wear a face mask.

Washing of hands is very important. Gargling when returning home.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

No one likes someone else snorting in their ears or seeing someone snort up a big one only to swallow the chunky bit down. Good to have noise canceling headphone.

Habits are formed and habits are hard to break. Yet worst habit I see here is snort spat all over the sidewalk/street or is that just Adachi-ku? Plus it's not everyone doing it just a handful that get into a habit of doing it and don't actually think about it.

Just like a group of mid-aged Japanese woman having a big 'LOUD' conversation on a crowded train. No wonder there be big mind your MANNER posters all over the stations telling young ones to keep the noise down and be respectful, Go figure?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

"So, arrogance, selfishness and inconsideration for others, is now seen as having a "big personality"?"

@Wesley, what do you mean?  It's arrogant, selfish and inconsiderate to blow your nose in public?  Why?

I travel to work by train, I find it absolutely disgusting the pig-like snorting and sniffing many Japanese passengers (almost always men) do.  To me, this is way more inconsiderate to others than someone blowing their nose.  It truly is a revolting sound.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

It is illegal to wear a face mask in public in my US state, with just a few exceptions. Some groups find hiding your face as a intimidating.

OCGA § 16-11-38

(a) A person is guilty of a misdemeanor when he wears a mask, hood, or device by which any portion of the **face is so hidden, concealed, or covered** as to conceal the identity of the wearer and is upon any public way or public property ...

The only exception for health reasons is for gas masks when directed by public safety officials. The law was challenged to the Supreme court and found to be constitutional.

I was told not to blow my nose in public in Japan because the handkerchief would be needed to dry my hands in a WC. So, imagine if you saw someone blowing their nose into their handkerchief - what would they use later, after washing their hands? Eeeew.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Why don’t Westerners wear face masks?

Because they know that they do next to nothing to safeguard the wearer against airborne diseases?

9 ( +11 / -2 )

"But why is booger mining in public exempt from this constraint?"

Good question. That and uncovered coughing

4 ( +4 / -0 )

PerformingMonkey is correct. Masks do very little if anything at all. likewise gargling, WASHING your hands and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes is the key.

Oh, and avoiding people in general.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The main function of a mask in many instances here is just an extra barrier to society. It's an easy way to show you don't want to interact with the world around you.

The students I teach at university who wear a mask as a regular part of their daily outfit are also the ones who are the most introverted, or least sociable - they sit by themselves and don't interact with anyone unless forced to.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

The students I teach at university who wear a mask as a regular part of their daily outfit are also the ones who are the most introverted, or least sociable - they sit by themselves and don't interact with anyone unless forced to.

Precisely. For most of the every day wearers, these masks are a type of psychological shield to protect them from wider society.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

This article said basically nothing.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You blow your nose with tissues not handkerchiefs which are used for the hands.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

originally, the reason why Japanese (and east asians in general) wear masks is because they,re sick (or don,t wanna get sick). supposed to not only to protect themselves but also to protect others. also the fact that Tokyo and other asian cities are gigantic and have millions and millions of people. and there,s also the pollen issue. however nowadays these are just cheap excuses and the real reason why (a big number of) people wear masks is because they don,t wanna be seen (for millions of reasons) (no, not the makeup thing (we,re talking about guys too) ). the other half, they,re hiding and becoming more and more isolated and anti-social. sure, you can argue that many asians are shy, but that,s no excuse to become a ghost. as for blowing the nose . . . . . . (if i have a runny nose (very uncomfortable)), i always blow my nose whenever and wherever i want (i mean, duh). as simple as that.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I don't wear a mask, because I almost never get sick. I eat well, sleep well and take care of myself - keep the immune system strong. If I were forced to go out in public when suffering from a bad cold, I would probably wear a mask in case I coughed or sneezed, for that is pretty much all masks are good for - containing expectorate of already sick people. Did you know the average virus is 16 times smaller than the gaps in the fibers of even the the highest grades surgical mask? Like a grain of sand going through a tennis racket.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

@kyushubill

Funny this is not a "Japanese thing" it is a definite East Asian thing. Same in China, South Korea, and Taiwan. The masks are a magic invisibility cloak that you can do whatever you please while wearing one and it is no harm no foul. If you are married meet a side lover, go into the love hotel, and nobody knows jack diddly. Mama-chan can go into the LV and Prada shop and nobody knows how she is spending papa-chans cash. It also panders to the social recluses that they can go out and not be seen. The magic mask makes you unseen.

How and why did we go from blowing nose to cheating? Jeez...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All of my Japanese co-workers seem to have no problem blowing their noses in the break room while I am eating. Then again, the younger westerners do it too. That was faux pas when I was growing up. I have to restrain myself from chewing them out.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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