Source: Gaijin Pot
The history of hay fever in Japan is intrinsically linked to the Cryptomeria japonica. But to lay all the blame on the Japanese cedar tree misses some interesting parts of a story of the fortunes of modern living.
Japanese people often refer to hay fever as the national illness, or kokuminbyo (国民病). About a quarter of the population is estimated to suffer from it. That compares to just 8 percent of adults in the U.S., where it is simply referred to as a pollen allergy.
It wasn’t always this way. Hay fever was first reported here in 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympic Games, when the nation sought to showcase its recovery from World War II defeat. Large pollen volumes in 1976, and again in 1979, promptly boosted the number of hay fever sufferers, and, as we entered the 1980s, the ailment was affecting so many people that it was regarded as a social problem.
The curse of the Japanese Cedar
Around 60 types of plants in Japan are recognized as causing hay fever, but by far the worst culprit – provoking symptoms such as sneezing, sore eyes, runny noses and more in a whopping 70 percent of sufferers – is the native cedar tree, or sugi (杉).
Despite its current role as the bad guy of Japanese hay fever, the cedar was a savior, of sorts, in post-WWII Japan when it was used to reforest mountains throughout the country that had been stripped bare by excessive logging during and after the war for use as fuel and lumber. Those treeless mountainsides had led to huge disasters and fatalities, particularly landslides, but the government-funded planting of the fast-growing cedars prevented any consequent large-scale damage.