It might be hot as hell in Australia, but for Japan it's cold and flu season. That means people in Japan are wearing sickness masks in public. Either they are sick or are trying to avoid a cold.
The default is still the white sickness mask, but recently, black ones are becoming more popular among the country’s youth.
This recent trend in Japan appears to be K-pop powered.
— ✳蒼井✳ (@aoi__0718__) February 4, 2019
During the past few years, when K-pop idols like boy band Shinee arrived in Japan, the popstars wore black sickness masks at the airport. (It’s unclear if Michael Jackson, who frequently travelled while wearing black sickness masks, was an inspiration.)
Black masks became popular because they could be a fashion accessory. White masks looked like something for patients or hospital staff. Other reasons for black masks’ popularity include that they make your face look smaller (a desirable trait in Japan and South Korea) than white ones do.
Another reason is that some masks have charcoal filters and claim to better protect against airborne illnesses. Then there is the way black masks can suit certain outfits.
— ハム太郎???? (@bts20010522) January 29, 2019
The dark masks first started to catch on with K-pop fans in Japan as well as visual-kei types around 2014 and 2015.
— Deorart(ディオラート)【公式】 (@Deorart_shop) January 25, 2016
The promotional campaigns targeted visual-kei and goth types.
— もっくん (@mokuniuka) January 24, 2019
Some Japanese pop stars, like Tsuyoshi from Kinki Kids, also started wearing black masks, much to the delight of fans. Members of the Japanese boy band Kis-My-Ft2 also ditched their plain old white masks for the sleeker black ones.
— 堂本♡ひかり (@ki3kd51244) January 13, 2017
Now, black masks are slowly starting to reach a wider audience. Within the past few months, Japanese TV programs have introduced the trend. Josei Seven, one of Japan’s most popular and longest-running women’s magazine, recently did an article on the “black mask boom,” drawing a direct line to K-pop fashion.
— あんどりゅー (@bunchintaem_) January 26, 2019
During the past few decades, black sickness masks have been seen as unseemly. In Japan, the stereotype was the bikers and hoodlums wore black masks to cover their faces while raising hell. These masks weren’t for illnesses, but rabble-rousing.
— 横田守 mamoru yokota (@yokotamamoru) January 14, 2019
This could be why that until K-pop stars started wearing black masks, people in Japan mostly stuck to white masks. Korean pop stars helped soften the image black masks had in Japan.
— 竹内彩姫☺︎ (@saki_t48) January 30, 2019
Now, these masks for fashionable Japanese youth, who are now wearing black masks to coordinate their outfits.
— 早川渚紗 (@nagisa_hayakawa) January 30, 2019
While the black mask boom might be a relatively recent, originally, masks in Japan were black.
— 岩ノ城 (@JojiSensei) January 26, 2019
For example, here is a pre-World War II “Banzai” branded black mask. This is not the oldest one.
— psy (@psytou) January 29, 2019
In 1879, a black mask was released in Japan and its packaging featured the curious English language brand name “Respiraltll.”
— 鈴木祐介 (@7_color_world) February 4, 2019
Black masks might not be new to Japan, but thanks to the influence of Korean pop culture, they have definitely become more visible in youth areas like Tokyo’s Shibuya and Osaka’s Amemura as well as in online illustrations.
— ✄しうまる❄まふらー????新年会余韻 (@uni_shiumaru) January 27, 2019
— 梨寿 (@rijyu_12) February 3, 2019
(個人的な好みで髪縛って黒マスク付けさせていただきました( ˊᵕˋ )♡)← pic.twitter.com/CWQZEqDY4c
— ????????????優咲姫(うさぎ)???????????? (@usagi_juwe) January 27, 2019
— まやん＠無言フォロにてお迎え中です (@myn_oekk) January 9, 2019
ワンドロお題(金髪・黒マスク・ピアス)お借りして…( ˊᵕˋ ) pic.twitter.com/XKqDNoe56c
— 花科ユウ@超低浮上 (@hnk_ttt) July 6, 2018
— イサム@いがなか5巻11/1発売 (@ISUMI_136) March 27, 2018
— えりぃ (@elly__142) December 25, 2018
— 十鳥 (@Totori_Toiro) December 21, 2018