Japan firms inventing high-quality masks to battle virus

Medium-sized firms in a range of industries across Japan are marshaling their technologies and know-how to produce high-quality, washable masks to meet soaring demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Apparel company Lifestyle Accent Inc. in Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan, has launched masks using fiber materials from “washi,” or traditional Japanese paper. It says this kind of material helps masks feel less stuffy and that they can be washed just like clothing items such as T-shirts.

The triple-layered mask has a filter in the middle made wholly of washi, while the material that touches the skin is a mixture of washi and cotton.

It is sold through the company’s brand Factelier in partnership with small and medium-sized apparel companies across Japan. The product, made in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan, at a plant of Tokyo-based Curetex Corp., is available at Factelier’s website for 2,090 yen ($19) — although it currently takes two months to reach customers.

Mitsufuji Corp. from Seika in Kyoto Prefecture has invented masks using its unique silver-metalized materials, which has deodorizing and antibacterial effects. Named “hamon AG” and priced at 3,300 yen, it has strong durability and can withstand being washed more than 50 times.

“We wanted to do something with the technology we have in a situation where many people are in trouble, unable to find masks,” a Mitsufuji spokesperson said about the product, which is made at its plant in Kawamata in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Fukushima.

Having sold out once in mid-March after putting the product on sale, the company has ramped up production and orders can again be made at its website. Delivery is expected to take several weeks.

Yamamoto Corp. in Osaka, known for developing a rubber material rivaling the LZR Racer by Speedo International Ltd. that helped many swimmers during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has come up with a mask cover called BIOLA, made of skin-fitting materials used in wetsuits for surfing and diving.

There are small holes near the nose and mouth to take in air, unlike the usual masks made of non-woven materials where air can enter anywhere. The innovative material manufacturer says inserting a gauze or tissue paper between the mouth and the mask cover can help prevent infection.

They are available in two shapes — one twofold and another to be made by putting together two pieces — for 2,200 yen and 1,650 yen respectively, but the price has been cut to 1,500 yen and 1,000 yen for a limited period.

Ladies-underwear manufacturers have also joined in. Utax Co. has produced what it calls “the ultimate seamless mask” that adopts technology used in making inner clothing, enabling the product to dispense with stitches or strings and to offer a soft touch to the skin using stretchy materials.

The company from Nishiwaki in Hyogo Prefecture near Osaka is selling it through its own brand Smoon for 660 yen, offering three sizes in three different colors.

Atsumi Fashion Co. has drawn wide twitter attention after posting a mask with laces used for a brassiere. The company, which first began producing unwoven cloth masks at the request of its home city of Himi in Toyama Prefecture, is moving to make its latest product also available for purchase.

On April 1, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised to deliver two cloth masks per family, although some mocked the plan, calling it “Abenomask” (Abe’s mask) in a pun on his signature economic policy called Abenomics. Others have called it “a waste of taxpayer money.”

While wearing cloth masks is believed to have only limited effect in preventing infection with the virus, it is thought to be effective in not spreading it through airborne droplets when one coughs or sneezes.



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