Hay Fever is Big in Japan
March 19, 2019 12:34 PM   Subscribe

There is a curious history behind it, dating back to the Second World War. And, it's starting up now.
posted by Bee'sWing (19 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Since I did a program to learn the meanings of most basic kanji, I have often been charmed by the literal meanings of various Japanese words, and "flower powder sickness" (花粉症 "kafunsho") is no exception. This was really interesting!
posted by sunset in snow country at 12:42 PM on March 19 [11 favorites]


I had terrible hayfever when I was in Japan, to the extent that my throat would get sore which doesn't happen when my hayfever is triggered here in Canada. The cedar forests are really nice to hike in though.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:02 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Cedar has long been a torment to me. The worst hay fever reaction I ever had was from ceder trees in the arboretum in Dublin. I was sure they were to blame because of the handy labels on the trees.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:07 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


How strange, I was just thinking of this Japanese phenomenon today and planning to google it. I read about it ages ago and was interested because my hay fever started exactly when we moved from the country to the city. I'm not allergic to cedar pollen, just ordinary grass pollen, but I am fascinated that there is a proven connection between city-life and hay fever. I wonder why I've never seen similar European studies.

I've been allergic way before the hay-fever started, but again, my reactions (rashes and astma) disappeared when I lived with my grandmother, who maintained a rural lifestyle even when she lived in the city for a while.

Lots of people in my family are severely allergic, there must be a genetic component. But my two girls have had minimal symptoms. I nursed both of them as long as possible (while avoiding allergenes in my own food) and only fed them made from scratch food after that. We had dairy products, but in limited amounts and mostly fermented forms.
posted by mumimor at 1:49 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Interesting, thanks!
posted by clawsoon at 1:49 PM on March 19


Ironically, I get pretty bad pollen allergies every spring in the US, but I was perfectly fine in Japan at the height of cherry blossom season.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:51 PM on March 19


Cedar basically wants to kill everything. Your red cedar siding only lasts forever because it poisons everything that tries to eat it. Cedar-lined chests and closets were for furs and fine woollens because they kept clothes moths and carpet beetles at bay. I'm amazed that all the cedar pencil shavings I huffed as a little 'un haven't done for me ye
posted by scruss at 1:58 PM on March 19 [22 favorites]


How strange, I was just thinking of this Japanese phenomenon today and planning to google it. I read about it ages ago and was interested because my hay fever started exactly when we moved from the country to the city. I'm not allergic to cedar pollen, just ordinary grass pollen, but I am fascinated that there is a proven connection between city-life and hay fever. I wonder why I've never seen similar European studies.


That's a really interesting observation, mumimor.

I think it's toxic air pollution in the city. It's as if when your immune system encounters something it might react to, it ignores it unless something bad is also happening to your body that can 'reasonably' be associated with it.

So when you breathe in pollen along with toxic compounds which are damaging respiratory tissues but are not as visible to the immune system, Presto!, a pollen allergy.
posted by jamjam at 2:09 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Cedar pollen doesn't affect me (yet), but I do get intense hayfever in Japan in September and October, when many species of grass bloom -- I lived in the countryside, far from big cities, and we still spend part of the year there. It wasn't always like that, but something that happened after I lived in Japan for about ten years.

Besides the runny nose and itchy eyes, I get an extremely sore throat, making it difficult to swallow or even sleep.

The problem is that medications that contain pseudoephedrine are banned in Japan, and this includes the over-the-counter antihistamines that typically work best for me in Canada.

Antihistamines in Japan do work for me a bit, but leave me feeling cotton-mouthed.

FWIW here in Canada I also suffered from intense allergies when moved back from Japan. I lived on the Saanich Peninsula, north of Victoria, where the primary ag crop is hay. It was terrible. Things got better when we moved into the city.

I still have to take a double-dose of Claritin for about two months each spring and early summer.
posted by JamesBay at 2:16 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


There was even an episode of Cells at Work! on this: Cedar Pollen Allergies.
posted by mogget at 2:33 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


For years, every time I went to Austin for SXSW I would come home with a sinus infection. Then one year I didn't. A taxi driver I talked with that year had the answer: The local white cedar trees hadn't released their pollen yet.
posted by me3dia at 2:34 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


As well, Japanese sugi is not a true cedar, but is a species of cryptomeria. In North America there are a number of species of trees called "cedar" that are not actually true cedars.

Where I live, the Western redcedar is actually a species of cypress, as is the yellow cedar.

The Texas white cedar is a species of juniper.
posted by JamesBay at 3:25 PM on March 19 [8 favorites]


Just popped my Claritin before preparing to venture out to the pollen ridden streets of Tokyo. And, all I can say is kill it with fire. It amazes me that someone with allergies worse than mine hasn't gone out to the nearby forests and tried to burn it all down. (Well, that and the fact that we get get plenty of rainfall means there just aren't that many forest fores.)

Seriously though that bit about the pollen shells breaking down and releasing powder that penetrates better and can recirculate off the streets helps make the rate of increase and severity make sense.
posted by Gotanda at 3:54 PM on March 19


the literal meanings of various Japanese words, and "flower powder sickness" (花粉症 "kafunsho"

Sunset, like so much of Japanese there is a fun homophone!
粉 / fun / dust, powder
糞 / fun / feces, shit

So in my mind I always misread it is as "Flower Poop Sickness." And, this childish behavior makes me feel just a bit better.
posted by Gotanda at 4:01 PM on March 19 [13 favorites]


haha, I get kanji embarrassingly wrong so consistently that even though I looked it up before posting to be sure, for a moment I thought you were telling me that it WAS Flower Poop Sickness. I mean, it seems perfectly fitting.
posted by sunset in snow country at 4:07 PM on March 19 [7 favorites]


To be honest, I think I mistakenly thought it was poop before I learned it was dust. Too bad poop month is over!
posted by Gotanda at 9:43 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Alphaville is also Big in Japan.
posted by jkrobin at 6:10 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


I was thinking Tom Waits, I'd forgotten how dark the lyrics are though.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:54 AM on March 20


For years, every time I went to Austin for SXSW I would come home with a sinus infection. Then one year I didn't. A taxi driver I talked with that year had the answer: The local white cedar trees hadn't released their pollen yet.

The first spring after I moved to Austin for graduate school, I woke up with the worst sinus infection I'd ever had. I called into work sick, and my boss said, "Yep. You have Cedar Fever." I've had seasonal allergies for most of my life but I have never been that miserable. Between that and the mold (so humid!), I lasted one more spring and then when I graduated I got the heck out of there. Not that Northern Virginia is much better, but here it's manageable for me.
posted by candyland at 2:29 PM on March 20


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