By now, all of you will have seen more Japanese than normal wearing masks. You yourselves might be amongst those wearing them, too. Your eyes are itching, your nose is running though you don`t have a cold, and you can`t seem to stop sneezing. You feel tired and irritated and wish it would stop. The reason? It`s Hay Fever time in Japan, or as the locals call it, Kafun-sho ( 花粉症 かふんしょう ).
This is time of year many people dread. Winter is ending, the weather is turning warmer, the days are getting longer, and everyone is looking forward to Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing. The trees are turning green again, birds are chirping and new life abounds. What`s not to like? Well, if you suffer from pollen allergies, this is the worst time of the year. You dread going outside as the symptoms are multiplied and you spend the whole time using up tissues and generally feeling miserable!
Why is the hay fever season so bad in Japan? Well, after the Second World War, Japan needed material to rebuild, especially houses. Wood is one of the most common building materials used, particulary the Japanese cedar (Sugi 杉) and cypress (Hinoki 檜).
Anyway, the government after the war decided that in order to fulfill the need for building materials, they needed to plant large amounts of these trees. Unfortunately, no one really thought the consequences through. These trees were planted in large concentrations close to city centres. In Tokyo alone, someone actually decided it was a good thing to plant 2 MILLION trees just north of Tokyo! Not only did it change the landscape, it resulted in unusually high concentrations of cedar pollen coming down in waves to the Tokyo metropolis, affecting millions of people. And this picture is reflected up and down the country.
What are the symptoms of hay fever here in Japan?
The ears, nose and throat are the most common areas affected.
Common nasal symptoms
￭ Sneezing （kushami ga deru）
￭ Runny nose (hanamizu ga deru)
￭ Itchy nose (hana ga kayui)
￭ Blocked or congested nose (hana ga tsumaru)
Common eye symptoms
￭ Red eyes (me ga juketsu suru)
￭ Watery eyes (namidame)
￭ Itchy eyes（me ga kayui）
Other possible symptoms
￭ Dry throat / itchy throat (nodo ga kawaku / nodo ga kayui)
￭ Itchy ears (mimi ga kayui)
￭ Headache (zutsu ga suru)
￭ Disturbed sleep (suimin-shōgai)
￭ Inability to concentrate (shu-chu-ryoku ga nakunaru)
So, what can you do to lessen the effects of hay fever?
- Firstly, wear a mask. Many foreigners have an aversion to wearing a mask.
It is seen as not cool, and a bit of a nuisance but Japanese have been wearing them for a very long time. Masks are seen as not only a way to prevent you from catching illnesses likes colds and influenza from other people, but also as a way to prevent you from spreading your cold or other illnesses to others. Wearing a mask during this season actually does help a lot. It prevents the pollen from getting into your nasal system, thereby lessening irritation.
You can also buy a mask spray that helps to keep out the pollen even more. If you visit a chemist, you can find all kinds of mask on sale and you should be able to find one that you are comfortable with. This isn`t a fashion accessory but an aid to survive the uncomfortableness.
Take allergy medication. You can buy all sorts of medication to lessen the effects of kafunsho. They have varying levels of effectiveness so you might have to experiment with different brands to find one that best suits your body. Many foreigners find these medicines too weak so you might have to visit your local doctor for something stronger. However, be aware that a lot of over-the-counter medication has a tendency to make you drowsy, so bear that in mind if you are playing sports or operating any kind of equipment.
- Use eye-drops to alleviate the dreaded itchy and red eyes. You can also buy eye-wash specially formulated to remove pollen. Use these as soon as you get home and before bed.
- Use nasal sprays or tenbi-yaku (点鼻薬). These inject a spray into each nostril that helps to alleviate irriation.
- Try and hang your laundry indoors as much as possible during this season. Pollen will attach itself to anything and the last thing you want is to start sneezing and having watery eyes as soon as you bring in your washing.
Try and dust off your coat or jacket before entering your home. Also, if possible, give your hair a dust off with your hands to try and remove as much pollen as possible. While it might sound silly to others, when you suffering badly from hay fever, you will be willing to try anything.
- If you are really desperate, you can visit your GP and ask for injections to help get you through the season.
There are detailed reports on the pollen count every day, for all regions. While depressing to read, it at least helps you prepare for the worst.
You can find out more here: http://kafun.yahoo.co.jp/#nationwideForecast
The link above is the pollen forecast around Japan updated daily by Yahoo. Although it is only in Japanese, you can check the pollen quantity by the color codes:
Blue: No or very little pollen
Green: Some pollen
Yellow: High levels of pollen
Orange: Extreme amounts of pollen
Gray: No information/season over
Or here: https://tenki.jp/pollen/
The meanings on the map:
少ない – No or very little pollen
やや多い – Some pollen
多い – High levels
非常に多い – Extreme levels
ほぼ終了 – Season is almost over
I hope this helps. Spring is a fabulous time of year in Japan, with many events to be enjoyed as we shrug off the effects of winter. Instead of being locked up in the house while the rest of the population is out and about enjoying themselves, let`s put on an armour of mask, glasses and medication to be able to participate in all that spring has to offer.