Cedar pollen is not clearly visible, but it can cause fiercely annoying nose and throat problems for many people at this time of the year. Those who are allergic to cedar pollen are unwilling to go out without wearing masks in this season.

Poet Shuko Hanayama, 38, composed a short poem about hay fever in the style of the Manyoshu, Japan’s oldest existing collection of poetry.

Shirotae no / Masuku no tami wa / Kaganabete / Kafun ni haru wo / Namida seru / Monono aware ni / Hana tarite (People wearing dazzling white masks / Day after day / Shedding tears due to pollen in spring / Making me feel the pathos of things / As they show runny noses).

The poem in traditional seven-and-five-syllable meter describes the familiar early spring scene in which people are struggling with symptoms of hay fever, such as watery eyes and a runny nose.

A collection of Hanayama’s poems titled “Rinritsu” (Standing together in large numbers), published late last year, includes many pieces about cedar.

“Ippon no sugi no kafun wa uzumaki ginga no gotoki tenmongakuteki suchi” (The number of miniscule pollen granules from just one cedar tree is as astronomical as (the number of stars) in spiral galaxies).

Simply reading the poem makes my nose tickle.

“Sugiyama no kafun wa yamani yamakajino kemuri no gotoki uchinabiku miyu” (I see clouds of pollen from a cedar mountain drifting as if they were plumes of smoke from a forest fire). It is a vivid description of masses of cedar pollen wafting from a mountain covered with cedar trees.

As I read the collection, I assumed Hanayama was a big-time pollen hater. But I found that she does not have to wear a mask to protect herself from cedar pollen.

“I have no symptoms (of hay fever),” she said. “But I find it unfortunate and sad how many people fear and hate cedar.”

She composes poems about cedar while studying the history of the relationship between people and cedar trees.

“Sugi ga konnani fueta nippon no futatabi no asaborake sugi no iki ga niou yo” (With daybreak beginning again with a streak of light in the sky in Japan, where the number of cedar trees has increased so sharply, I can smell the fresh breath of cedar).

Hanayama visited the Forestry Agency in Tokyo and studied the history of tree planting in Japan in the agency’s reference room. Cedar trees were planted all over the nation during the period of national reconstruction after World War II. But most were never used, as wood from abroad has gained in popularity. Hanayama feels sympathy for the fate of cedar trees planted in Japan.

“Nippon no fukko ni koken surubeku mo naku tekizai tekisho no tekisho aranaku” (There was no way cedar trees planted after the war could contribute to Japan’s reconstruction, as there was no good role for them to play).

Today is another day for me to wear a mask. I start wearing a mask in the autumn hay fever season and continue wearing one into the winter flu season and further into spring, when I have to worry about cedar and hinoki cypress pollen.

Before I knew it, I have developed a habit of wearing a mask all year round.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 3

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.