The assistant at the office is my canary in the coal mine for the start of kafun, the hay fever season. He forfeits his contact lenses for glasses several weeks before things really tick upwards on the pollen count, and then starts popping pills. He’s been doing this for several days now.

Today another colleague mentioned he was suffering, and I sent him directions to my favorite allergist. Not too far from the office, good office hours for working people, and an excellent command of English.

And while I was observing the assistant and assisting the colleague, I was insisting that I was fine — that I wasn’t suffering at all. In fact, I’ve been doing a lot better these past few years, and sometimes don’t even bother with medication.

Then I left the office and went to meet a client for his English lesson, and he mentioned it also. It’s hay fever season, and he’s feeling it. I insisted I wasn’t affected in the least.

On the way home, I sneezed once or twice. Not really bad, but a couple of sneezes for seemingly no reason. And I was feeling itchy. I’ve been putting cream on my legs and now my scalp was starting to itch as well.

That’s it, I thought. Tomorrow, Nana and I are off to Izu for a couple of days of rest and relaxation, and I’m driving a minimum of three hours to get there. Once there, I don’t know what kind of access we’ll have to either allergists or drug stores. (I’m sure they’ll have both, but I don’t know if the allergists will prescribe what I’m used to taking or if the pharmacies will have it on hand.) Since the medication I usually take is available over the counter, I figured I could pick it up tomorrow morning on the way to the car rental pick-up. I’d heard Nana mention a 10 a.m. pick-up, and I was sure I could talk her into being just 15 minutes late for that so we could stop at the local drug store at 10 and get my meds.

Map of Japan with pollen count
Pollen count

On the bus home, I got off at the usual stop and realized I was right by the drug store. I shook my head at how long it had taken me to come to that realization. I found the medicine in under a minute, and spent another two minutes picking out eyedrops that were specifically formulated for hay fever. I spent a bit longer waiting in line at the register, and then the clerk informed me a generic was available for the hay fever medication I’d selected. He had a small basket of the generic right there at the register, which shows how widespread this hay fever thing is. (I decided to stick with my name-brand stuff. A few pence more and I get something I’m confident will work. Call it the placebo effect.)

I got home and had dinner with Nana and then took a pill. It was just a few minutes later that Nana mentioned we’re getting up early tomorrow, and we’re picking up the rental car at 8 …