Hay fever season officially started in Tokyo last week, according to an NHK article posted on February 13. Not only has it started five days earlier than average, but they also discovered 20% more airborne allergens in the air than normal. This means that the roughly 1 in 2 people with pollen allergies in the capital are already furiously scratching at their eyes and counting down the days until spring ends — and it hasn’t even started yet.
Why are pollen allergies so severe in Japan?
The blight of Japan’s pollen problem originates from a well-intentioned yet short-sighted economic policy made in the aftermath of World War II. In an effort to be self-sufficient in wooden products after the war, Japan had a single-minded strategy: Plant as many cedar trees as possible. And while they got the wood-related economic independence they sought after, the unintended consequences have now caught up with them in the form of full-grown, maximum pollen-producing trees that cost the economy an estimated ¥200 billion ($1.8 billion) in 2018.
In a New York Times article from 1995, the writer describes the hay fever situation in Japan, saying “never before have humans been assaulted by such huge waves of pollen.” Well, two decades later and those waves must seem like a ripple for current hay fever sufferers as 2019 looks to be another of the worst years on record for pollen counts.
With 48.8% of the population affected by pollen allergies from cedar according to a government survey, that means there are 6.9 million people in the Tokyo metropolis who could be taking sick days from work, refusing to leave their homes on weekends, and who aren’t able to rush to their nearest Starbucks to get the new sakura-themed latte. That’s a colossal blow to the economy.
Fixing the pollen issue could devastate Tokyo
But it’s not just opportunity costs where the government is losing money — they are also paying ¥774 million ($7 million) each year to cut down these trees and replace them with lower-pollen varieties. Don’t get your hopes up, though, because they can only replant around 60 hectares a year. Otherwise, they risk destroying Tokyo with devastating landslides and flooding. 😱
If you suffer from pollen allergies, you can get weather information about pollen severity via this Japanese weather forecast website. Stay tuned for our upcoming article on Japanese hacks to soothe hay fever symptoms and let us know if you’ve got any of your own tips in the comments!