When people sing the praises of Japan’s four seasons and their motifs, spring is all about sakura. But for the sniffly, runny-eyed 13% of Japan’s population with kafunsho (hay fever), spring is the dreaded allergy season and the sugi is the only tree that matters. The fast-maturing cedars were planted en masse in the 50s for their wood and now blanket the country in misery-inducing pollen that sends millions running from February to April for piles of pills, gallons of anti-itch eye drops and mountains of masks.
Though the pollen counts are supposed to be only about half as bad as last year, morning weather forecasts still include daily pollen count maps dotted with teary, scrunched-up cartoon faces.
Allergy sufferers may try anything for a little fresh air: electronic purifiers that claim to cleanse vast areas or portable ionic purifiers that hang from the neck. Cosmetic and supplement maker DHC sells an anti-pollen “Double Blocking Mist” for spraying on fabric that the company says sells out every year.
Many keep it simple, though. Last year, surveys showed that paper masks were the go-to pollen protector for some 60% of allergy sufferers. Could it be that this year, after a long winter of swine-flu precautions and mask hysteria, people have had it with the ER look?