Photo/Illutration A typical cedar tree with male flowers that release pollen in spring (Provided by the Okayama prefectural government)

The government pledged to slash the pollen count in half over the next 30 years to make life more tolerable for the millions of people in Japan who suffer from hay fever each spring.

It aims to do this by cutting and replacing tree varieties, mainly cedar, with ones that release less pollen.

A meeting held May 30 in Tokyo came up with an overall picture of steps that ministries and agencies will implement to tackle the issue.

Covering a total area of around 4.4 million hectares, cedar trees account for more than 40 percent of planted forests in Japan. Most of the trees are 20 or more years old, and therefore more likely to disperse pollen.

The government aims to reduce the area of artificially planted cedar forests by 20 percent over the next 10 years. This will require cutting 70,000 hectares per year from the current 50,000 hectares.

It also plans to promote replanting with other varieties that produce less pollen.

These represent the main pillars of steps envisaged to tackle hay fever once and for all.

If the measures are taken, the area taken up by artificial cedar forests will be reduced at twice the current pace, making it easier to replant with low-pollen varieties.

Anticipating a sharp increase in felled lumber, plans are afoot to promote the construction of wooden housing, among other things.

The government also plans to improve the accuracy of pollen forecasts, using supercomputers and artificial intelligence.

In addition, it plans to enhance allergy treatments, notably with a four-fold increase within five years in the supply of medication for sublingual immunotherapy, which is considered a new therapeutic approach.

The government eventually aims to ensure sufficient supplies of medication for one million people per year.

But achieving these goals is not necessarily straightforward.

To sharply increase logging will require more productive equipment for forestry workers. However, the number of people engaged in forestry operations has halved over the past 30 years.

Securing the financial resources to develop and introduce high-performance equipment is another issue.

(This article was written by Takashi Narazaki and Hironori Kato.)