It’s around this time, just as we dare to dream of an end to winter, that many of us in Japan are confronted by another of nature’s challenges (and possibly its most annoying) in the form of kafunsho 花粉症, pollen allergy, or in more familiar parlance, hay fever.
There are a number of allergy sources in Japan but the two heavy hitters are the sugi (杉) and hinoki (ヒノキ/檜) trees, of which there are many; the result of a post war reforestation program to create construction materials which, in large part, were never used. So today, in a similar way to the nation’s cherry blossom trees sweeping the land from south to north unleashing a wave of beauty, an excess of Japanese sugi and hinoki trees unleash their own wave of allergy inducing particles.
The sugi based allergy is prevalent from February through April. Hinoki, in March and April. These trees are unique to Japan so many of us will have had no idea of such allergies until our arrival in the country. Symptoms include sneezing, a runny/blocked nose, and red, itchy eyes. More severe symptoms are fevers and headaches. For first timers, this allergy is easily mistaken for the common cold. If you’re unsure, a simple test at an ear, nose and throat clinic (耳鼻科/jibika) will clear things up.
Unfortunately there is no known cure. There are, however, myriad of products easily available to help us get through this tricky season, if we know what to look for.
For The Nose
In your local pharmacy/drug store look out for アレルギー専用点媚薬/allergy senyou tenbiyaku. Nose drops (for use against allergies) to you and I. This is used to combat 鼻づまり/hanazumari/blocked nose, 鼻水/hanamizu/runny nose, and くしゃみ/kushami/sneezing.
Instructions for the product pictured above state that it is not to be used by children under seven years. At one time, use one push in each nostril 3-5 times a day. Wait for 3 hours between each usage. If ineffective after 3 days of use, see a doctor.
アレルギー専用鼻炎薬/bienyaku translates as nasal inflammation medicine (pictured below, left). This medicine is taken orally as indicated by the Japanese 14日分 28錠/14 nichibun 28 jyou/14 days worth, 28 tablets. Only for use by people over 15 years. Take 2 tablets a day, in the morning and late afternoon. Medicine like this is similar in components and strength to that which you will receive from a doctor. It’s recommended to begin taking this medicine some two weeks before the allergy season starts.
To translate from the box pictured below (left) …
しっかり効く！- Very effective.
眠くなりにくい！- Reduced effects of sleepiness.
口が渇きにくい！- Reduced effects of dry mouth.
For The Eyes
To help with those red, itchy eyes you’ll need some eye drops. Keep an eye out for 眼科/ganka (pictured above, right). This is difficult to translate without getting very scientific, so let’s just call it, err, stuff for your eyes! Such medicine is often labelled with 目のかゆみに効く/mei no kayumi ni kiku/effective for itchy eyes. Instructions state that this is not to be taken by children under 7 years. Do not use with contact lenses. It may also induce sleepiness, so avoid use while driving. There are no specific directions for quantity and frequency, so use your own judgement. If your eyes are very painful for any reason, avoid using this medicine.
Anything that puts a barrier between your eyes and the pollen will be of service during the allergy season. These days there are glasses out there designed for this purpose, where the lens projects out to seal the space between one’s eye and the frame. If this is beginning to sound like a pair of swimming goggles then you would have been right, a few years ago. Now, the appearance is much more subtle, and people can get away with wearing such specs without looking, well, silly! Any glasses store worth its salt will sell them, including uber chain JINS, the link to which we provide here, and which demonstrates well what we’re talking about.
All Round Protection
This subheading is a little misleading as, other than leaving Japan, there is nothing one can do to achieve full protection from these allergies. We’re in the business of damage control here!
One of the easiest purchases to make at this time of year is the surgical mask. Simple, cheap, pretty effective, and with no sides effects, other than making us foreigners feel self-conscious!
For the home, you may want to invest in a 空気清浄機/kuukiseijyouki/air purifier. Although they’re a little heavy and clumsy, there are those that double as a humidifier 加湿機/kashitsuki for the dry winters (see more on that here). Starting at around 20,000 yen from major stores, they aren’t cheap but they do come highly recommended, turning your home into a, relatively, allergy free oasis. Shop around to find better deals! See what we’re talking about here on the Yodobashi store website.
At the other end of the price scale, next time you’re in the supermarket look out for sprays labelled as 花粉プロテクト/kafun protect, 花粉ブロック/kafun block, or 花粉ガード/kafun guard. For around 500 yen you get a bottle of spray for your clothes that helps to prevent pollen particles sticking to you, and also keeps your threads smelling nice a fresh throughout the day!
The above products can all be used to combat allergies/discomfort caused by house dust/ハウスダスト, as well.
Please bear in mind that information we are giving here is only in the form of suggestion. A starting point, if you will, and cannot take the place of speaking to a medical professional.
AccuWeather.com provides English language forecasting for allergies in the Tokyo area.
Let us know if you’ve found an effective way to combat kafunsho!