If you’re anything like me, at this time of year you check out the weather report twice a day for that all-important bit of info: the 花粉情報 (kafun jōhō, pollen report).
When the sun is out, that little icon on the screen signaling 花粉状況 (kafun jōkyō, pollen conditions) turns a warning shade of red, which means it’s time to don a マスク (masuku, mask) and, in extreme cases, cover your eyes with glasses. And weekend plans include trips to the nearest 薬局 (yakkyoku, pharmacy) to stock up on items such as 目薬 (megusuri, eye drops), 花粉専用マスク(kafun senyō masuku, pollen-specific face masks), 花粉症用の薬 (kafunshō-yō no kusuri, hay fever medication) and anything else you can cram into your shopping basket.
Hay fever and アレルギー (arerugī, allergies) have been on the rise in Japan since the 1970s and specialists have put the blame on three main culprits: 杉花粉 (sugi kafun, cedar pollen), 大気汚染(taiki osen, air pollution) and 食生活の変化 (shokuseikatsu no henka, change in diet). Of these, cedar pollen has an especially bad rep. Japan’s mountain regions are overrun with government-sponsored cedar forests that were created in the 1950s. Many of those forests are now neglected, leaving the cedar pollen to 飛散する (hisan suru, fly and scatter) through the air — on a crash course with our sinuses.
In the spring, 花粉症 (kafunshō, hay fever) is pretty much public enemy No. 1, and 花粉症予防 (kafunshō yobō, hay fever prevention) makes for a great conversation starter as well as being extremely helpful advice. Some words you might pick up include 手洗い (tearai, hand washing), うがい (ugai, gargling) and 目洗い (me arai, eye washing). Other tips include drying your laundry indoors and brushing off your coats and jackets before entering a home. Also consider investing in a functional 空気清浄機 (kūki seijō-ki, air filter) to keep your private space pollen-free.
If you get hit with kafunshō you may want to head to the yakkyoku instead of a hospital. A 薬剤師 (yakuzaishi, pharmacist) can fix you up with remedies, over-the-counter drugs and sound advice. A few, independently owned yakkyoku even sell 医療用医薬品 (iryō-yō iyakuhin, prescription drugs) without a prescription. The practice is called 零売(reibai) but there are only a handful of such pharmacies throughout Japan.
If your 症状 (shōjō, symptoms) are really bad, it may be best to skip the yakkyoku and try a local クリニック (kurinikku, clinic) where the wait time is only an hour or so. Many clinics and hospitals host entire wards for kafunshō-related problems, called 花粉症外来 (kafunshō gairai). If you can’t find this ward, try the 内科 (naika, internal medicine ward) for a little relief. Keep in mind that the smaller the institution, the less time you’ll spend getting through the paperwork and waiting for the 診察 (shinsatsu, medical examination), regardless of the ward.
Knowing how to explain your shōjō will help you get through the shinsatsu. Major ones include: くしゃみ (kushami, sneezing), 鼻水 (hanamizu, runny nose), 鼻詰まり (hana-zumari, a stuffed-up nose), 咳 (seki, cough), 目のかゆみ (me no kayumi, itchy eyes) and 頭痛 (zutsū, headaches). A simple way to say you’re suffering from the first three symptoms, is to insert the が (ga) after your symptom, followed by the verb 出る (deru, going out), as in 咳が出る(seki ga deru, I have a cough) and 鼻水が出る (hanamizu ga deru, I have a runny nose). In the case of itchy eyes, the correct verb to use is ある (aru), but you could just say 目がかゆい (me ga kayui, my eyes are itchy). That goes ditto for headaches, 頭が痛い (atama ga itai, my head hurts).
If you feel the need for stronger medication, stress your symptoms: くしゃみが止まらない (Kushami ga tomaranai, I can’t stop sneezing); 鼻が詰まって眠れない (Hana ga tsumatte nemurenai, My nose is so blocked I can’t sleep); 咳が出て辛い (Seki ga dete tsurai, It’s painful when I cough), 我慢できないほどの頭痛がする(Gaman dekinai hodo no zutsū ga suru, I can’t bear this headache).
If you’re allergic to active ingredients like 抗ヒスタミン剤 (kōhisutaminzai, antihistamines) or ステロイド (suteroido, steroids), let the staff and doctor know immediately, since most hay fever medication prescribed in Japan are likely to contain both.
Some people prefer 漢方 (kanpō, traditional Chinese medicine) instead of the usual meds. Kanpō originally came from China but in its present state it refers to Japanese herbal remedies developed mainly in the Edo Period (1603-1868) and updated over the centuries.
Many Japanese swear by it, citing few side effects and its holistic approach. Kanpō can be paired with 鍼灸 (shinkyū, acupuncture and moxibustion) or 整体 (seitai, therapy with massage, chiropractic and osteopathic elements), and is widely used in areas like 予防医学 (yobō igaku, preventive medicine), 不妊治療 (funin chiryō, infertility treatments), 心療内科 (shinryō naika, psychiatric treatment) and even 癌予防 (gan yobō, cancer prevention). The catch is that most kanpō is outside the national health insurance, so prices can get pretty steep. However, when you suffer from kafunshō, 背に腹はかえられない (Se ni hara wa kaerarenai) or, loosely speaking, desperate times call for desperate measures.