Desperate to protect themselves against the coronavirus that is sweeping parts of the planet, but unable to buy face masks due to shortages, people in Japan are going to unusual lengths with DIY solutions.
While fearful Chinese people are forced into some extreme, if strange, measures such as using fruit skins, plastic bottles, sanitary pads, and even bras as makeshift face masks, many Japanese are coming up with ingenious solutions of their own.
Fears from COVID-19, as the disease has been named by the World Health Organization, have led to worldwide mask shortages, not only triggering panic buying but also a crime wave as opportunists get their hands on masks to sell at inflated, fear-driven prices.
Recently, thieves stole 6,000 surgical masks from a hospital in Kobe, western Japan, and armed robbers stole 600 rolls of toilet paper after mugging a delivery man outside a Hong Kong supermarket as fears of supply shortages mount.
In Japan, those who have come across only empty store shelves and who refuse to pay the exorbitant prices set by online gougers have turned to depression-era kinds of frugal creativity.
Handmade masks are trending on social media, with Instagrammers posting tutorial videos on how to construct them using handkerchiefs, scarves, or even coffee filters and elastic bands.
While some experts advise handwashing is more effective than wearing a face mask or go as far as saying reusable masks are dangerous to your health, many still believe that any mask is better protection than no mask at all.
Virologists, on the other hand, have doubts about the effectiveness of masks against airborne viruses, although there is some evidence to suggest they can help prevent hand-to-mouth transfer.
Handicraft magazine Cotton Time, published by Shufu To Seikatsu Sha Co., recently shared a step-by-step guide instructing how to make a DIY face mask on its website using a free downloadable sewing pattern
“Our magazine is published bi-monthly, but we couldn’t afford to wait, so we decided to put it up on our website. At times like these, you simply help because that’s the right thing to do,” said Yumi Ishida, editor-in-chief of the magazine.
“We’re getting 10 times more traffic than we normally get. A lot of people have been sharing DIY masks on social media, but we’ve used our craft expertise to come up with this 3D mask pattern. You don’t need a sewing machine. Even if you haven’t sewn since your home economics class in school, you’ll figure it out.”
According to the Japan Hygiene Products Industry Association, more than 5.5 billion disposable face masks were manufactured in Japan in 2018, of which 4.3 billion were for private use.
In ever-trend-conscious Japan, masks have become a fashion accessory worn to make a statement, with many giving no consideration to health and hygiene when masking up.
For some, it is about conforming to a social norm. For others, it is like an addiction.
But the coronavirus has made face masks and hand sanitizers essential, especially for the elderly.
DIY mask instructionals have been making the rounds on YouTube and social media, with some craftspeople selling handmade pieces and others sharing their creative hacks on how to make a mask with a few basic supplies found in most homes.
Yuki Inomata, a blogger and fabric crafter who goes by @neige__y on Instagram, says she expected an influx of visitors to her blog when the news of the coronavirus broke because of what she experienced during the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003.
“At that time, page views soared from a typical 500 per day to 4,000. When I saw what was happening (with the new coronavirus), I had to put my jobs on hold and focus on helping by sharing my skills with others,” Inomata said.
“I see people using their hands to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. I don’t know if masks actually keep people from getting or giving viruses, but at least it stops the flecks of saliva from flying into the air,” she said.
With surgical masks from major retailers near impossible to buy in Japan, Inomata says working out how to stitch your own version is so much easier today with a skill-sharing platform like social media.
You will find an illustrated guide to making masks using paper towels, rubber bands and staples on @nekohnd’s Twitter account.
A tweet from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s Disaster Response Division (@MPD_bousai) teaches you how to wear masks and dispose of them properly, while a free DIY mask instruction manual is available in English, Chinese and Korean on the Oita prefectural government’s website (https://www.pref.oita.jp/site/bosaianzen/shingatacorona.html).