92.2 Risk, ritual and health responsibilisation: Japan's 'safety blanket' of surgical face mask wearing

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 11:05 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Adam BURGESS , University of Kent, United Kingdom
This paper develops understanding of surgical mask wearing in Japan, now a routine practice against a range of health threats. Their usage and associated meanings are explored through surveys conducted in Tokyo, with both mask wearers and non mask wearers. It contests commonly held cultural views of the practice as a fixed and distinctively Japanese collective courtesy to others. Historical analysis suggests an originally collective, targeted and science-based response to public health threat has dispersed into a generalised practice lacking clear end or purpose. Developed as part of the biomedical response to the Spanish flu of 1919, the practice resonated with folk assumption as a barrier between ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’. But mask wearing only became socially embedded as a general protective practice from the 1990s through a combination of commercial, corporate and political pressures that responsibilized individual health protection. Developments are usefully understood amidst the uncertainty created by Japan’s ‘second modernity’ and the fracturing of her post war order. Mask wearing is only one form of a wider culture of risk; a self protective ‘risk ritual’ rather than collective, selfless practice.