Forget the cherry blossoms, springtime in Japan means gearing up for allergy season

Julian Ryall
Forget the cherry blossoms, springtime in Japan means gearing up for allergy season

In Japan, masks, nasal sprays, eye drops and over-the-counter medicines are being snapped up by the millions of people who suffer from kafunsho, or allergies brought on by pollen – with this year’s springtime epidemic the worst in at least six years.

As many as one in four of the nation’s 127 million residents experiences sneezing, wheezing and itchy eyes every year, with the peak period of allergies taking place between late February and mid-March for pollen from cedar trees, and again from late March to mid-April for cypress trees.

“As a child, I never used to get allergies but it has steadily got worse in the last few years,” said Kanako Hosomura from Yokohama.

“I’ve been to the doctor and she said that a lot of people are having the same problem this year. I have medicine for my son and my husband, but he has had it really bad.

“I saw some special glasses in a shop at the weekend and they are more like swimming goggles to stop the pollen getting in your eyes. I said he should get them but he just said they would look silly. But he’s still complaining about his eyes itching.”

The good, the bad and the ugly sides to Japan’s cherry blossom season

Tokyo-based Weathernews cautioned as early as January that levels of pollen in the atmosphere across Japan would be higher than usual this spring as a result of the relatively warm and dry winter months.

The company’s website on Monday showed that more than 60 per cent of the nation had elevated pollen levels. Of that total, levels in more than 17 per cent of Japan were classified as “very serious”.

Weathernews has also predicted that this year’s pollen season will last longer than usual.

Forewarned that this year’s allergy season was going to be worse than usual, a number of companies have launched new products they claim will keep the airborne irritants at bay.

Cosmetics firm Kose has introduced a cream that can be applied to the skin and repels pollen, while ST Corp has introduced a stick product that helps to block pollen when applied to a mask.

The positive ions in the Cationic Polymer face spray are also designed to ward off pollen, while the new Kleenex Aqua Veil Tissue Paper contains a special lotion that is ultra-soft on sensitive noses.

Why is Japan so obsessed with being on time?

Probiotics manufacturers are promoting their supplements, home electronics companies are selling air cleaners that add moisture and eliminating dust and pollen at the same time, while cleaning products firms are suggesting that homemakers wipe their floors with damp mops as vacuum cleaners only serve to spread the pollen around.

Cedar pollen allergy was first identified in Japan in the late 1950s and was linked to the planting of vast areas of countryside in the previous decade with fast-growing evergreen trees. Timber from the trees was needed to rebuild the cities that had been devastated in the Allied firebombing raids towards the end of the second world war and then to keep up with demand for housing as the population boomed.

Kafunsho affects so many people that it also has a measurable impact on the nation’s economy. Outlays on products and service to help people get through the pollen season are estimated at 300 billion yen (US$2.6 billion) annually, although a study by Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute suggests that consumers spend 569 billion yen less, as they prefer to stay at home rather than brave the great outdoors.

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