Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo
No one knows when the coronavirus turmoil will end. The only thing we know is that after the Corona, the culture of global society will be irreversibly changed.
Before Corona (BC) and Anno Corona (AD), the world will be different.
It has already been changed, in some parts.
With the virus, the East Asian custom of wearing surgical masks has spread to Europe and America, and finally to the Middle East as well. It is a great transformation of manners and sensibilities of Western and Middle Eastern cultures in light of the strong hesitation in the past of wearing the masks.
Wearing surgical masks in the ordinary public life has been seen, in the eyes of the Westerners, one of the peculiar and alien customs of the East Asia, particularly in Japan.
The custom of wearing masks has long history in the East Asia, dating back to the age of the epidemic of tuberculosis about a century ago in which surgical mask was an effective tool to prevent droplet and spray infections.
As waves of new types of flu and influenza viruses arrived and as the corresponding development of hygienic education which partcularly universally reached to the corners of society in Japan, people in the Japanese society and then entire East Asian countries have learned the practice of mask wearing.
Recently, masks have also been widely worn for the purpose of mitigating hay fever symptoms which is caused by allergy to various pollens.
However, it has long been believed in the Middle East, influenced by the Western assumption, that wearing masks was a strange custom of the East Asia, which suppress people’s free and vocal expressions and communications by hiding and hindering the facial expressions.
It’s been strange in the eyes of the East Asians that even in Cairo, where people have been exposed to harsh air-pollution, there were very few people waring masks. On the contrary, it tended to be subject to ridicule when East Asian travelers or expats wore masks on the street of Middle Eastern cities.
Now, news reports coming in from the Middle East shows that people flock to the shop to buy masks. A new global culture of mask-wearing is emerging.
It also compels us of reconsidering the controversy raised against the custom of wearing hijabs by the Muslim women in Europe. It has been asserted that hiding face hinders expressions and communications of women, which were essential parts of social integration into the Western value system. Now, Europeans are hiding their faces and what happened to this assertion?