Hope at last for hay fever sufferers: Japan is waging war on pollen | Peter Ormerod

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We should all realise by now that nature hates us. Plants use their roots to whisper among themselves, according to the latest research, conspiring underground, plotting our destruction. They “prompt their neighbours to grow more aggressively, presumably to avoid being left in the shade”. That sounds like a rather charitable presumption to me. We underestimate their capacity for nefarious scheming at our peril. And they save their nastiest trick for this time of year.

We fall for it every time. “See how pretty we are!”, they say. “Wonder at our divine colours, marvel at our sublime textures; how delicate is our beauty! Love us.” It is an act of the damnedest subterfuge, for this is the time of year they also just happen to start bellowing out their Powder of Deep Suffering, which they would rather we call pollen. And we’re supposed to believe this is some kind of coincidence?

It is clear we need a saviour, someone who can see through the wiles of the kingdom Plantae (yes, they even have a king!) and take decisive action with extreme but entirely warranted prejudice. And now, the moment has come for that saviour to rise. All humankind should be grateful that he is the prime minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, because it means he can do something about this.

We call it hay fever (not really much to do with hay, not really a “fever” as such). They call it kafunsho, or “pollen disease”, which does a far better job of expressing what it feels like. It shows they take it seriously. And goodness, are they taking it seriously this year.

As pollen levels rose to their highest in a decade in Tokyo, Kishida has called it a “social problem” that demands an urgent response. “We want to get results,” he added. The language of warfare is full of such euphemisms. Because in this case, it turns out that “getting results” involves nothing less than arboreal annihilation. They are taking on the trees, slashing cedars and cypresses, presumably because it’s more practicable than getting them to stand trial in The Hague.

An MP from the ruling Liberal Democratic party believes Kishida will “go down in history” if he eradicates what he calls the “national disease”. Kishida could be remembered like a Shakespeare or a Mozart: a titan of civilisation itself, a man through whom the human spirit shone like a dazzling beacon for generations to come. I hope that provides sufficient motivation.

For too long, Japan showed what happens when the trees get their own way. They just make more trees, and more trees just make more pollen, which causes more suffering, and also then makes more trees. Add some warmer weather to the cycle, and a crisis point is reached. This is today’s Japan: a country where eye drops, nasal sprays, protective glasses and the like are increasingly this season’s must-haves, a country where some companies give staff money to spend on treatments and visits to clinics, a country where kafunsho renders four out of five sufferers less productive, meaning about a third of Japan’s population can’t get everything done, all because of the trees. Yes, the old trees may well be replaced by new trees. But the new trees will be less powerful.

Japan has what might be called “form” when it comes to allergenic non-human life. It perfected the idea of animals by inventing the Tamagotchi. The fact there are still such things as furry organic pets is testament to humanity’s inherent stupidity: whoever got a runny nose, watery eyes and so on from a Tamagotchi?

Hay fever, kafunsho, call it what you will, is one of the cruellest ploys devised to subdue the human, who is lured into brightness and splendour only to be spited and mocked. How the plant world must laugh at us, we who behold their heavenly glory with tissues in hand, mopping our puffy faces, squirting fluids up our streaming nostrils, donning clunky protective garb. They have affronted our dignity for too long. Japan: we’re with you.

Hope at last for hay fever sufferers: Japan is waging war on pollen | Peter Ormerod

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