Allergies in Japan

Spring can be a particularly challenging time in Japan. You’ll see people shedding their winter coats and donning surgical masks, carrying extra tissues, and tilting their heads back to refresh themselves with eye drops. Native and foreigner alike is afflicted by allergy season, but why? And is there anything you can do to relieve the symptoms?

What are you allergic to?

When Japanese people ask you what you are allergic to, it’s because their language is very specific with identifying the allergen. Simply saying you have allergies without identifying the source of those allergies can be a bit strange to some Japanese people, as different types of pollens have specific names in Japanese. The most common kanji for pollen is kafun, or 花粉, so be on the lookout for that as you browse the drugstore aisles! Common culprits of pollen that will make your sinuses go nuts include Japanese Oak (still Oak, or オーク), Japanese Cypress (Hinoki, or ヒノキ), and Japanese Cedar (Sugi, or 杉).

You can go to a doctor and they can give you an allergy test to figure out which specific flower, tree, or grass you are allergic to. That way, you can more accurately map out when you’ll be feeling off and when you’ll need to start taking your medicines.

Allergy Medicine

Getting allergy medicine was daunting for me: I didn’t read Japanese well at all, I wasn’t super sure about the import laws, and I felt like I was slowly dying some days. Don’t suffer like me! There is hope for the allergy afflicted!

Most allergy medicine out here is trial and error: I wasn’t sure what would work well for me, and without the active ingredient in Zyrtec to be found in most medications, my options were limited. There are plenty of over-the-counter (OTC) solutions as well as prescriptions. Some medicines you buy in the USA will require a prescription in Japan, so be aware! Here is a handy guide to help you dissect it all.

Allergies in Japan - Two Second Street -
Pills to help your sniffles

I’ve found the Matsumoto Kiyoshi brand pink pills to be pretty effective, although there are still days where I get overwhelmed. Wearing masks to keep pollen out of your face is an option, as are eye drops to wash your eyes out and nasal sprays to keep yourself breathing well. A month’s worth of the generic pinkies that I buy costs around 3000 yen (about $30), and eye drops and nasal sprays range from 1000 to 3000 yen each (about $10 to $30). Surviving Japan also has a great list of ways you can deal with allergies!

While the symptoms are more intense here, this sure beats the perennial allergy season in Arizona! So if you come in spring as a traveller, bring some allergy medicine or know that you can get some in-country.

Do you all have any allergy remedies? What helps you the most? Leave a comment below and share the wealth of knowledge!


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