Japanese Prime Minister Abe's Abenomask Gauze Masks Are Too Little, Too Late

Tokyo Culture Covid-19 2020.05.29
Months later, after the Japanese state of emergency, most people are finally getting their masks, and they're still not happy.

The Masks Are Here

In early April, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his first policy in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a plan to distribute two whole masks to every household in the country. The plan, dubbed "Abenomask" (アベノマスク, literally "Abe's masks") was met with frustration from the start, angering residents with the weak response to the increasingly urgent pandemic, and inspiring internet users to create some memorable Abenomask memes. Announced on April 1st, it almost seemed like an April Fool's joke.

In the intervening months, Abe finally announced the state of emergency called for by many in the general public, and the people of Japan have been learning how to live through the coronavirus pandemic, buying out paper surgical masks and cute fabric masks alike. A nearly 2-month state of emergency in Japan was announced and then ended, and people are now returning to school and work. What most people haven't been taking advantage of, however, is the two gauze masks Abe promised to every household. Why? Well, for one, it's because most people hadn't even received them. 

Ta-da! The Masks Have Arrived

Not only did the masks take months to arrive at many people's houses, but the deliveries were also further hampered by issues with the masks themselves. People reported receiving masks covered in mold and mildew, or packaged with dead insects and random hairs. Fortunately, these arrived safely.

The Reality of Using the Abenomask

Not even dogs like them. Kuruki is displeased.
  • The papers sent along with the masks included information and recommendations from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. It even acknowledged that two masks wasn't enough for many households, but, grasping at straws, reminded readers that these masks were washable and reusable. It's all a nice sentiment, but that wasn't even the end of the problems.
  • Above, the gauze Abenomask. Below, a paper surgical mask, now back in stock at drugstores around Japan. Do you see the issue?
  • The gauze masks are significantly smaller than the masks people are used to. The width is especially obvious when compared like this, with the light blue surgical mask extending an extra centimeter or so on each side. Less obvious but equally problematic is the height - the pleats mean the paper mask is expandable, where the gauze is not. There were even reports of extremely uneven elastic ear loops, making the masks shift to the side of the face. For a lucky few with smaller faces, especially women, the masks are fine. They might be just right for kids. But for most adults...
The size problem was clear from the start, when Prime Minister Abe first showed off a sample of the new masks while explaining the new policy. In fact, it was one of the main sources of humor when people reacted to the announcement. Some of the ridicule was focused on Abe's own big face, but while he may have a big head, the mask was clearly small for most adults.
  • The Abenomask vs. A Normal Surgical Mask
    The Abenomask vs. A Normal Surgical Mask
    When the function of a mask is to cover the wearer's nose and mouth without any need for adjustment throughout the day, the Abenomask clearly defeats the purpose. But considering how long it took for them to arrive, many people only receiving their masks in the last days of the state of emergency or later, most people have probably figured out alternatives by now, anyway.
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