For Disease or For Fashion?

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When foreigners come to Japan, many wonder why so many people here wear masks. On the train and in the streets, masks are everywhere. Typically in Japan, masks are used to prevent diseases from spreading. When the flu is going around school, some parents make their kids wear masks, or when someone feels that they are going to get a cold, they wear a mask. Similarly, on trains, many wear masks due to the amount of people around them and the potential to catch germs. However, recently, these masks are being used for something other than prevention of illness.

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According to Nikkei Net, some women wear these “fake” masks when they wake up late or don’t have time to do makeup.  In some cases, eye makeup may be applied but by wearing a mask they look like they have made up their whole face.

Some wear these masks because they think the masks accentuate their “V” line, which accentuates your chin to your cheeks, smoothing the face line, and the “E” line (aesthetic line), which is when one looks at your face, the tip of the nose and the bottom of the chin appear in a straight line, apparently the standard of beauty for plastic surgery.

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In a shopping strip in Shibuya, one of the most crowded areas in Tokyo, when 100 Japanese male and females aged between 10 and 30 wearing masks were surveyed, 31 people, 9 men and 22 women (31%), were not wearing these masks for any medical reason. One 19 year old college student’s reason for this was because he ‘did not want to talk to anyone’.  Additionally a 16 year old high school student who was also surveyed, said he was ‘too lazy to make facial expressions’, while a 25 year-old store clerk said he wore it ‘to hide his tiredness during his shifts’.

Yohei Harada, an analyst of young adults ‘culture, says the reason why some wear these masks may be due to people being used to internet and social media, and the need to block off communication with others.

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Some masks are being sold solely for the purpose of beauty, with the shape of the mask less square, to accentuate the “V” line or “E” line.  While common face masks have 4 pleats in total; 2 on top and 2 on bottom, the beauty mask has 1 on top and 3 on the bottom. The mask industry has been able to capitalize on this trend, since the masks which fit womens’ faces are actually better filters, because the typical square mask doesn’t fit the face and can cause particles to sneak inside from the chin and cheek areas. We are also seeing a choice of colour appear, so apart from plain white masks, some men and women are choosing complimentary colours to their outfit (black is a favourite) and even characters’ mouths, and patterns.


Moscow’s Anti-Cafés: Where Time is Money

image russianSince their conception by Russian writer Ivan Mitin, anti-cafés have been spreading from Moscow to all over Russia, and now Europe. Mitin’s chain ‘Ziferblat’, established in 2011, reached London in 2013 and Manchester just last year. The main concept of the anti-café is that the customer pays for time spent in the space rather than for food or drink. More to the point, however, the anti-café aims to encourage socialising and communication, thus providing a cosy, comfortable atmosphere for people to make new friends and spend time with old ones.

An anti-café will usually offer hot and cold beverages, cakes, free Wi-Fi and board games, with some even hosting Xbox or PlayStation consoles at no extra cost. The customer is also at liberty to bring their own provisions and use the kitchen to cook – though they should expect to share!

The process is simple: you go in and register, take a clock and your time starts. The going rate is typically only around 2-3 roubles per minute (the equivalent of 2-3 pence at the moment). Therefore, two hours amounts to what you’d typically pay for a coffee in Starbucks.

Unsurprisingly, these cafés have really taken off with students who are looking for a space to hang out and have a drink or snack within a sustainable budget. Stepping into ‘Zelyonaya Dver‘ (Green Door) in Moscow, paints a typical picture of anti-café life: ping pong tables in the garden, students singing with guitars on the sofas, and others sipping tea and playing Jenga.  It is a common occurence for people to strike up conversations with strangers and make new acquaintances – a sight rarely seen in a standard Western café.

Indeed, a key part of their popularity is that anti-cafes provide a removed space with an informal atmosphere where social norms and rules are relaxed.  In a city like London where interaction between strangers is rare, this might be just what is needed to escape the nonstop rush. As Mitin himself outlined, the concept of a ‘free space’ is key; the customer is autonomous and able to create his own world within the café setting.

The past five years have not only allowed the concept of anti-cafés to spread, but also to develop into some quirky approaches to the idea. Perhaps one of the most weird and wonderful is ‘Kotiki i Lyudi’ (Cats and People) near Tsvetnoi Bulvar metro station. Claiming to make Moscow ‘warmer and fluffier’, this is the perfect place for cat lovers to enjoy pastries and tea whilst playing with the 14 house cats, and of course only paying for time (

So if you’re travelling to Moscow any time soon, and looking for a place to study, eat or just take some time out on a budget, why not pop into an anti-café, where time really is money.

Image: The Calvert Journal

Pop Up Public Art in Christchurch

boxparkOn 22nd February 2011, Christchurch New Zealand, was hit by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake. It caused widespread devastation and killed 185 people.

It was recently the five year anniversary and a number of news stories reflected on what has occurred since the earthquake in New Zealand’s second biggest city.

The rebuild is set to cost an estimated NZ$40bn and has been faced with criticism in its efforts and timescale. Despite this, as The Guardian reported, ‘residents in Christchurch say it [the earthquake] has also given them a chance to thoroughly examine and debate what they want from their new home, and allowed creativity and innovation to flourish’.

Accordingly, a number of charitable organisations have worked with the notion of creativity in Christchurch since the earthquake. Gap Filler, an initiative described as  ‘filling the gaps of Christchurch with pop up creative projects’ suggest that ‘before the quake, people thought of Christchurch as quite conservative, but now the opportunities have given people a blank canvas, if nothing else, and people are very open minded about what the spaces could be.’

Similarly, Greening the Rubble – a charity providing parks and outdoor community spaces on empty land in the city state that ‘‘…art is even more important after traumatic events. You can’t always put into words how you feel.’

Throughout Christchurch, this notion of a new lease of life through creativity is clearly evident.  Despite the fact the centre is filled with the sound of drills and shells of former buildings, there is pop up artwork and creativity around every corner. Exploring the city is a sensory voyage involving immersion in new and emerging public art and sculpture.

Reflection of Loss of Lives, Livelihoods and Living in Neighbourhood is an installation by Peter Majendie consisting of 185 white chairs. Representing each of the 185 people who died in the earthquake, each chair is different and reflects a bold memorial to the loss Christchurch experienced.  Visitors are invited to sit on the chairs and take time to reflect.


The Transitional Cathedral is a temporary space for worship and reflection as the city’s cathedral was severely damaged in the earthquake.  Designed by the architect Shigeru Ban, the Transitional Cathedral is made out of cardboard and seats up to 700 people.


Shipping containers are a common sight around Christchurch. They have been, and still are, used to block entrance to dangerous areas and hold up semi fallen buildings in the city. However, since October 2011, they have also been used as part of Re: START – a unique retail space consisting of temporary buildings made from shipping containers. The space also consists of a multi-media attraction named ‘Quake City’ which tells stories of Christchurch’s earthquakes.

The inclusion of creativity and art in the process of rebuilding Christchurch is uplifting, and allows for the injection of colour, imagination and vibrancy juxtaposed with rubble and construction. It has built new spaces for people to enjoy, rebuilt new places of worship and importance and allowed for an expressive way to work through the grief and impact of such a traumatic event. Christchurch highlights the importance of public art and creativity within the process of healing and will remain visible as the city rebuilds.

Singapore: Expensive Tastes

IMG_0417Young Singaporean workers (particularly HR and admin roles) don’t tend to stay in jobs for very long and will go after slightly larger pay checks over job security. Why? Because most jobs receive an Annual Wage Supplement – an almost guaranteed bonus equivalent to one month’s extra salary. So a slightly higher wage means a bigger bonus.

But what to do with all this cash? Shop of course! Orchard – the busiest, fanciest and most Western of the shopping districts – boasts all of the high end stores one would expect to find on Rodeo Drive: Burberry, Hermes, LV. But don’t think you have to go to Orchard, Singapore has over 200 shopping malls of all sizes so you can spend your bonus money pretty much anywhere.

Got thirsty from all that shopping,  then head to one of the 122 Starbucks or 64 Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf stores.  Despite Singaporean “kopi” (stronger coffee from stalls made with condensed milk) being available for as little as S$1 (USD 70¢), thousands still flock to the Western chains and pay 6 times that amount.

It is not only the rich that have expensive taste; my colleagues are always on the lookout for the latest trends and most luxurious bags. Students who have done internships with us were concerned about having their gold membership at Starbucks expire more so than getting a job after university. It all boils down to one factor – image. The image of success: the stylised hair, the bag from an exclusive member’s only gym, the Starbucks ice caramel macchiato.


This lifestyle does not describe all Singaporeans but an interesting sub-set. This also does not mean this sub-set is shallow but rather have all their needs met and so the only thing remaining is their wants. This group of people tend to still live with their parents, sometimes until 30, and therefore lack any true financial responsibility, so when their friends decide to go on a shopping trip to Bangkok, why not go? Their parents provide an often used safety net. If they overspend, they won’t get kicked out for not paying rent – there is no rent for them to pay.

This way of spending one’s early 20s is not wrong or right, it’s just different and it’s the way things are done here for some people. Given the opportunity to save what I want and spend what I want with no risk, I would probably do the same thing – wouldn’t you?