Hiking and hay fever in Japan

The Spoils of Early Spring Outings

Tempted with the lure of warm weather for the first time this year, I made an ill-fated decision yesterday to set out knowing very well I had a good chance of succumbing to hay fever. This ignominious fate first presented not long after exiting Mitake Station with a colossal sneeze attack which literally brought me to my senses. Generally, I shy away from the ubiquitous surgical mask synonymous with spring but I had little choice but to whack on a mask and a pair of sunnies. Not unsurprisingly, Mt Mitakesan was vying for ghost town status with only a hearty few – my girlfriend included having the gumption along with the requisite genetic make-up to stem the pollen onslaught. A quick check here would have hopefully thwarted my decision to go anywhere near these pollen farms.

The hay fever in Japan article on Wikipedia reveals some twenty percent of the population suffer from seasonal hay fever 花粉症 ka-fun-sho (though anecdotally seems somewhat higher) which occurs across much of Japan (excluding Hokkaido) from late January through early April. The chief culprit is Cryptomeria japonica à la sugi 杉 a conifer from the cypress family which begins dispersing its pollen when daily temperatures reach 10 degrees Celsius. As alluded to in the article inadequate forestry practises have led to larger numbers of sugi trees reaching maturity and in turn leading to higher concentrations of pollen in the air. After some rough number crunching, one finds that 8.3 percent of Japan’s land area is comprised of sugi of forests. The likelihood of this proportion changing any time soon is unlikely given Japan’s heavy reliance on cheap imported timbers and a general impotence shown by successive governments to tackle this issue. The transition to low pollen varieties is likely to take several generations given both the extent of current sugi forests and a diminishing number of forestry workers in Japan. The upshot of this is either to stay well clear of the mountains this spring or amble around the hiking trails looking akin to the invisible man.