Face masks embroidered with traditional designs of Japan's indigenous Ainu people to ward off evil have gained sudden popularity amid the coronavirus pandemic after the country's top government spokesman wore one in a televised press conference.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who heads a task force for promoting government policies related to the Ainu, wore a mask with a spiral and thorn pattern at a regular press conference on May 7.


An embroidery circle in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, made the mask. Speaking for the eight-member group, Mitsue Haga said she was surprised to see Suga wearing the mask in front of reporters but now hopes the sudden attention the masks have attracted will be "an occasion to share with people the culture of Ainu."

The circle has since received orders for 500 masks and says further orders may take a month until delivery as they can only make about 20 a day.

The masks are made of cotton and are available in 15 types of designs, which combine traditional patterns including "Moreu" (spiral) and "Aiushi" (thorn). The tip of the thorn is meant to ward off evil.

(Supplied photo)

Embroidered in a single continuous line, it "symbolizes a hope" for family members to return home safely, said Haga.

The face masks are priced at 850 yen a piece and sold at places including the city office of Noboribetsu, though they sell out quickly, she said.

"We hope to meet demand as much as possible," said Haga.