Japan to Combat Hay Fever by Encouraging Work-From-Home Policies; 20% of Firms Allow Staff to Work Outside Office During Season

Courtesy of Izak Co.
Tokyo-based employees work from Naha, where the pollen count is low, in March 2023.

Hay fever season has officially arrived in Japan as pollen begins to disperse around the country.

With hay fever now being referred to as a “national disease,” as it affects businesses and sometimes causes traffic accidents, the government is stepping in by calling for companies to allow employees to work from home or away from the office when pollen counts are high.

“My nasal congestion got better, and my head felt clear. I was able to focus more and felt more motivated to work,” Naoki Shigihara, 19, an engineer at Izak Co., a Tokyo-based tech firm, said about being able to work from Okinawa Prefecture for two weeks in March last year during hay fever season.

In 2022, Izak introduced the “Tropical Escape” system in which employees are allowed to work from a location where pollen counts are low between February and April. The company provides ¥3,000 per day to help pay for accommodations and subsidizes coworking spaces. The system is so popular that it is utilized by 30%-40% of its employees.

Shigihara plans to work from Okinawa Prefecture again this year.

According to studies conducted by the Japan Society of Immunology Allergology and Infection in Otorhinolaryngology and others, the percentage of people suffering from hay fever has been increasing, from 19.6% in 1998 to 29.8% in 2008 to 42.5% in 2019.

Symptoms of hay fever, such as runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing, affect employees’ concentration and disrupts sleep, which also affects business operations. According to a 2023 survey conducted by Tokyo Shoko Research Ltd., 30% of companies said hay fever negatively affected their business operations.

In May, the government compiled a plan to reduce the area of artificially planted cedar forests by 20% in 10 years and halve the amount of pollen dispersed in 30 years. In October, the Cabinet approved the initial package, which includes a provision to use artificial intelligence to forecast pollen dispersal.

According to a survey conducted by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry in cooperation with a private institution, about 20% of companies surveyed allowed employees to work from home or away from the office during hay fever season.

However, that is not feasible for some occupations, such as drivers. Sompo Risk Management Inc., which offers driver’s safety training courses for companies, said drivers could be distracted by their hay fever symptoms and make mistakes.

“If your symptoms worsen, keep a sufficient distance [from other cars] and slow down,” said a Sompo representative. “It might also be necessary to [pull over] and stop driving.”

The Japan Weather Association said the dispersion of cedar, Japanese cypress and Japanese white birch pollen is expected to be similar to or slightly higher than an average year in most regions from Kyushu to Tohoku but is expected to be significantly higher in Hokkaido.

In Fukuoka City and Tokyo, the peak dispersion period is expected to start in late February, and in Osaka, Nagoya, Kanazawa and Sendai, it is likely to start in early March. The peak season is expected to last for ten days to one month.

Govt response to combatting hay fever