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Japan Pounces on Pollen Problem

FILE: Representative illustration of a woman sneezing / blowing her nose. Taken Aug. 19, 2020.

TOKYO - Japan's spring season for many is mostly synonymous with sneezes. Each spring, the country's cedar trees in particular release potent clouds of pollen that prompt many to seek relief from prescription medication, but also surgical masks and even special glasses.

This year's season has been described as the worst in around a decade by experts and sufferers alike, prompting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to convene the country's first ever high-level meeting to tackle it.

"Hayfever is a national problem for Japan that troubles many people," he told the meeting on Friday, urging officials to develop measures to address the scourge by June.

Among the proposals are cutting down cedar trees to replace them with species that produce less pollen, and using artificial intelligence like supercomputers to "fundamentally improve" Japan's hayfever forecast system, land minister Tetsuo Saito told reporters.

The problem is so endemic it afflicts about 40 percent of the Japanese population, according to one nationwide survey.

And the economic impact is sizable because of productivity losses from workers affected by hayfever.

A 2020 poll by electronics giant Panasonic estimated the nation incurs an economic loss of over 220 billion yen ($1.6 billion) each day during the worst of pollen season.

Pollen allergies, of course, are not limited to Japan. People all over the world can be sensitive to pollen, suffering sneezes, headaches, and other reactions.