And suddenly (well, not exactly: it took about a month) from just another Japanese quirk, face masks became a world standard! All those “uniquely Japanese” and “only in Tokyo” pictures of women in kimono or schoolgirls in navy blouses or tattooed gangsters wearing masks won’t be same since masks are now as common in Manhattan as they are in Shinjuku and as inconspicuous in Shibuya as they are in Montmartre, Paris. And because people always try to make something good out of something bad and add an individualistic touch to everything (yes, even in Japan!), creativity has found ways to shine through even in masks.
To be fair, masks were never just a plain white gauze in Japan even before the COVID-19 pandemic: young people, in particular, often used masks in other colors like black or gray, or skin-toned. In areas like street fashion-conscious Harajuku or even in discount stores like the Don Quijote chain — famous for its odd collection of, well, oddities — you could masks with designs like mouths of zombies, skeletons like the Misfits’ logo, or, of course, cute cats. But now, with regular masks becoming harder to find, many people having more time in their hands and with everybody wanting to do something to help, designer masks have really taken off!
From various DIY ideas using tenugui hand towels, many of which come with videos (and even in English), to top design studios like bo-bi, whose mask incidentally you can find and buy at Japan Trend Shop, to world-class fashion designers like Yohji Yamamoto and his black Y’s Bang On!, Keita Maruyama and his bright color series, or Hokuto Katsui and Nao Yagi of mintdesigns’s almost transparent To Be Someone model made of unwoven fabric — the choices are endless.
And new ones keep appearing – and not just from fabric! Various designers and artists in Japan are coming with unique DIY masks, not least yang02 (aka Yamaguchi Takahiro) and Tokujin Yoshioka, who created the torch design for the now-postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They are using 3D printers to create face masks and face shields from plastic or other synthetic materials. Eisuke Tachikawa has made a face shield from an office item as basic as a clear plastic folder. Even better, the clever artists and designers are offering the files for free online so you can create your own. In the case of Yoshioka, you don’t even need a printer: you can download the template as a PDF, print it out, and use it as a pattern to cut a piece of transparent plastic that you can fix on any pair of glasses!
And if you are looking for something that is at the same time both traditional and functional, there’s always the Aizome Hybrid Mask that you can find at Japan Trend Shop. Made from 100% cotton and using traditional Japanese indigo dyeing techniques, it comes in two designs (folding and plain) and has a separate pocket for inserting an extra filter – yours or the one the maker provides using black silica, a mineral from Hokkaido traditionally believed to help boost the body’s immune system. Combined to indigo’s natural antibacterial properties, this can prove to be one of the best masks around!
Let’s face it: we hope COVID-19 will go away soon but we really don’t know how soon, and we don’t know for how long we will need to keep being vigilant. Even when the vaccine comes, it will probably take some time until it reaches everyone so, like in Japan (and other Asian countries, by the way, but hey: Japan is our thing!), masks are probably here to stay. So take your pick from one of the above suggestions or get inspired and create your own. If there’s one thing most of us have in abundance now, it is time and the need to do something useful with it!