Annual pollen invasion makes Japan sneeze

March 15th, 2008 - 9:08 am ICT by admin  

By Lars Nicolaysen
Tokyo, March 15 (DPA) Eriko, a 38-year-old housewife from Yokohama, is getting quite irritated as she is overcome by a sneezing attack every few minutes. “I am almost going crazy because of it. My eyes and my throat are constantly itching, even my ears,” she complains.

Countless other Japanese share Eriko’s predicament as the annual “kafunsho” time has begun when much of the country seems to be sneezing from pollen allergies.

Virtually everywhere, in the streets, in supermarkets, in their cars and crammed in commuter trains, sufferers wear white facial masks to filter out the air-borne pollen.

“Sometimes I even have to wear a mask when sleeping,” said Eriko.

The primary culprit for the epidemic runny eyes and noses is cedar trees, planted after World War II to reforest mountainsides denuded to reconstruct a destroyed Japan.

As a precautionary measure against possible landslides, in a country prone to earthquakes, the authorities began in the 1950s to reforest the hills with the native cedar trees.

Three decades later, when the cedars started to pollinate for the first time, the first allergy cases emerged and they seem to worsen with each passing year.

It is estimated that one in every five Japanese suffers from a pollen allergy.

Weather forecasts include reports if the following days will have high pollen counts and in which areas of the country will be more affected than others.

A local company has even developed a “pollen robot”, whose “eye colour” changes depending on the pollen concentration.

Advice to reduce the symptoms includes avoiding areas with high pollen concentrations, not hanging up laundry outside to dry and to wash faces and eyes often.

Wearing facemasks, protective goggles and hair-covering caps are also recommended to keep pollen at bay.

Furthermore, stress, smoking and drinking coffee also are best avoided, according to allergy specialist Dr Toshiro Yamanashi.

The facemasks have spawned an entire industry offering simple gauze masks, which loosely cover the mouth and nose to others that closely fit the contours of the mouth and have an attached flap to envelope the nose.

But the masks are also problematic for wearers of prescription glasses and the latest advertised solution is for small adhesive strips to seal the upper rims of the mask to prevent condensation on the inside of lenses.

Pollen allergies are also a governmental concern - from developing anti-allergy measures, to medicinal remedies to the outright replacement of the current cedar forests with cedar species that produce less pollen.

However, the private owners of the forests have little interest to fell them as they are financially unyielding due to cheap timber imports.

A private initiative of wood-processing companies in Miyazaki prefecture, which has bestowed itself as the Pollen Allergy Annihilation Center, intends to tackle the situation by educating forest owners about the proper care of cedar trees.

Pruning and thinning out the cedar forest cover is an effective countermeasure to curb pollen emission, however, they currently grow uncontrolled, and with each growth cycle they produce more and more pollen.

Until this effort bears fruit, Eriko and her fellow sufferers have no other choice but to stock up on facemasks, eye drops and nose sprays.

“I am really looking forward to the arrival of summer (when the pollination period is over),” she moans before sneezing once again.

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