National | Regional Voices: Hokkaido

Shortage spurs rush on materials for DIY virus masks in Hokkaido

Hokkaido Shimbun

A nationwide shortage of face masks amid the growing COVID-19 outbreak has sparked a rise in the number of people who make homemade masks using cloth as a substitution for medical gauze as protection against the novel coronavirus.

In the Sorachi District of Hokkaido, demand for gauze cloth has been growing at craft shops, with some businesses giving a tutorial on handmade masks or selling do-it-yourself face mask kits.

In Bibai, DIY mask kits are being offered as gifts in the furusato nōzei hometown tax program.

In late February, handcraft shop Kanariya, located inside the Aeon shopping center in the city of Iwamizawa, set up a section for materials such as gauze and bleached cotton cloth in response to higher demand for handmade protective face masks. Demand for gauze cloth that is normally bought by customers who handcraft baby bibs, underwear or handkerchiefs has been soaring recently.

“We’ve been selling twice or three times as much gauze cloth and related items as before,” said Takuya Saiin, manager of the store. “I have never seen them sell so well.”

Meanwhile, another clothing store in the city has also seen gauze cloth and elastic rubber bands used for handcrafting face masks sell like hot cakes. Since around mid-February, the store has sold nearly 1,000 pieces of gauze cloth.

“Demand for elastic rubber bands is huge, and we’re struggling to replenish our stock,” said a person in charge of procurement at the store.

Some local businesses in the city of Bibai are also helping residents make protective masks using whatever materials that are available. Staff at Cotton House Piko, a fabric shop in the city, have been teaching customers to make their own masks using gauze cloth and cotton cord, which is usually used for knitting, instead of elastic bands to make ear loops. Because of the sturdiness of cloth masks, they can be reused after they are washed and disinfected by boiling water.

The store has been holding a weekly patchwork class on handmade face masks since late February and has additionally taught about 10 customers.

“Once you make your own face mask, you can use it for protection against pollen even after the coronavirus pandemic is over,” said Kuniko Yamazaki, 63, who runs the shop.

Another local business in Bibai, Interior Studio Enomoto, which manufactures filters to keep fish tanks clean, has repurposed the manufacturing facility to make face masks due to the severe shortage. The firm has been selling a DIY face mask kit for ¥275 since March 5. One set contains a piece of mask-shaped nonwoven cloth and two rubber bands to make ear loops.

An inspection institute in Osaka examined the reusable mask to see if it would protect against bacteria and other agents and confirmed it is as effective as commercial face masks. The company sells the kits at its store and at a retailer, Antenna Shop PiPa, both in Bibai.

Since March 4, the city of Bibai has been offering the DIY face mask kits as return gifts for the hometown tax donation system to enable citizens to donate money to municipalities they wish to support in exchange for tax deductions. Those who donate ¥5,000 will receive five sets of the kits. There have been 270 applications from people in and out of Hokkaido for the kits by March 13, with messages of thanks and calls for prompt deliveries pouring in.

“We’re aware of the mask shortage and I hope we’ll be able to provide enough masks for local citizens and those from the rest of Japan who are in need,” said a municipal official in Bibai.

This section features topics and issues from Hokkaido covered by the Hokkaido Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the prefecture. The original article was published on March 15.

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