Japan on Monday eased its recommendation to wear the mask, already abandoned in most other countries, a decision which should however have little short-term effect in a country where many remain reluctant to go out “uncovered”.

Already present in the archipelago before the pandemic, especially during periods of seasonal flu or allergies, the mask has become essential there since the beginning of 2020 to the point of inheriting the nickname of “slip for the face”.

Wearing a mask has never been legally compulsory in the country, but the practice remains extremely widespread, including outdoors, despite repeated statements by the government explaining for several months that it was no longer necessary outdoors.

On Monday morning, the majority of the hundreds of travelers emerging from Shinagawa station in southern Tokyo were resolutely masked, one of them, Tatsuhiko Ohashi, explaining to AFP that he still had “a certain fear” of Covid. -19.

“I don’t want to catch it and I also don’t want to cause any inconvenience to others if by any chance I was carrying the virus myself. So I will continue to wear the mask for the time being,” the employee added. 46 years old.

Japan has recorded some 73,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic for a population of 125 million, a lower toll than many other countries, which some have attributed to the widespread wearing of masks and the prolonged closure of public places. borders of the archipelago.

The decision to don the object or not is now “left to individuals” in the words of the Japanese government, which continues to advocate the mask in transport when it is very busy, as well as in hospitals and establishments caring for the elderly. .

But half of those questioned in mid-February by the public television channel NHK said they thought they would “continue to wear the mask” even after the relaxation of the recommendation.

“The Japanese are very concerned about how other people look and are afraid of being judged if they are the first to remove their mask,” explains Hajime Yamaguchi, professor of psychology at Oberlin University in Tokyo.

“They will first observe what the people around them are doing before gradually abandoning the mask”. According to him, the pollen allergy season, currently in full swing, should also encourage many to stay covered at least until May.

By dint of wearing it, “many began to feel safer behind their mask” and for them, “removing your mask has become almost shameful”, adds Mr. Yamaguchi.

Some travelers, however, were enjoying their newfound freedom on Monday, such as Hiromi Mitsui, 49. “That those who want to wear it wear it and that the others do not wear it, if we respect each other there is no problem,” he said.

The Japanese executive has asked all business sectors in the country to update and adapt their rules concerning the wearing of masks, and supermarket chains, department stores and restaurants have mostly chosen not to impose the mask anymore. mask to customers, continuing to recommend it to their employees.

In his hair salon located in a trendy district of the capital, Kai Tsudo, 35, has also chosen to leave the choice to his customers, at the risk that the most cautious avoid his establishment.

“If we don’t change (mindsets) little by little, it could cause problems in the future” between mask supporters and others, he said.

The Ministry of Education has also asked schools to no longer require students to be masked from the start of the school year in April.

The government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has also announced its intention to lower the medical classification of Covid-19 to the same level as seasonal flu, instead of the current category where it rubs shoulders with tuberculosis and SARS.

The change, along with the easing of some restrictions, is due to take place after the annual “Golden Week” holiday period, which sees many Japanese travel in early May.

03/13/2023 08:32:03 –        Tokyo (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP