No, I'm not visiting a hospital nor planning to rob a bank.
Last week I caught a cold (again!) but it didn't put too much of a dent in my activities. I have been plodding along now only harboring a cough but I have my trusty mask to protect the people around me. People wearing masks is a very common site on the Japanese streets, and in department stores especially at this time of year and during the flu season (and also during hay fever season). It is common courtesy to wear a mask when you catch a cold in Japan or when you are especially worried about catching someone else's germs. When I first came to Japan it made me think that all the doctors in the operating rooms had left their patient on the table and had gone off forgetting to take off their masks.
I sometimes wonder how effective these little $1 gauze masks are. They are made of at least 8 layers of gauze with another interchangeable gauze piece inside and they have soft elastic bands that slip over the ears. I thought germs and viruses were small enough to pass through cloth weave and fibers but I suppose masks can prevent flying germs from sneezing and coughs. If nothing else, you know the person who is wearing one is probably not feeling up to par (and can keep your distance?) and probably is a very conscientious person.
For me, speaking with someone who wears a mask is somewhat of a challenge. Not that I read lips or anything, but seeing someone's facial expressions is very helpful when understanding a topic if you don't quite understand all the vocabulary, (another reason why I don't especially like the telephone) but all that is hidden under those layers of gauze. Masks are also slightly annoying when trying to understand or correct a student's English pronunciation so in class I usually say "take off the mask and give us your germs!"
For children there are all sort of cute little logos on the masks and even some in pastel colors. Yesterday at the kindergarten I found a little girl wearing a Mimi mouse mask.
For all you people with colds "Odaijini!" "Take care of yourself!"