May 3

Surviving in Japan: Yellow Sand in Japan – How Does it Affect You?

Surviving in Japan: Ashley Thompson

Ashley Thompson is "Surviving in Japan: without much Japanese."

Posted by Ashley Thompson (Shizuoka-ken, 2008-2010) of Surviving in Japan: without much Japanese and Lifelines columnist for The Japan Times.

Weather reports recently (May 2011) mentioned an increase in 黄砂, kousa starting today and continuing over the next few days over much of Japan, which I mentioned on Twitter and heard many replies from people wondering what exactly yellow sand is and why it’s important to know about, so I wrote up the following information:

Along with the prevalence of spring-time pollen, there’s another annual annoyance that often affects Japan, known as “yellow sand”, “Asian dust”, “yellow dust”, or a more official term, Aeolian Dust, and in Japanese as 黄砂 (こうさ, kousa). This dust is stirred up by the wind from deserts in Mongolia, northern China and Kazakhstan, and carried in clouds over China, North and South Korea, and Japan. Seems relatively harmless, but supposedly this dust has also been found to carry a variety of toxic particles, such as heavy metals, sulfur, viruses and bacteria, asbestos, and other pollutants. As far as I’ve been able to find, Japan doesn’t seem to have experienced many health problems due to this dust (please correct me if you know otherwise), though South Korea has reported adverse health effects, particularly in those with respiratory problems. The dust can also decrease visibility, stain laundry, and cause other problems.

Just to clarify, this isn’t necessarily something you need to worry about on a daily basis during spring, but it might be good to be aware of for when it does occur, particularly if you live in Okinawa, Kyushu, Chugoku or Kansai (though it can apply to other regions). If it does appear in significant amounts, you may want to think about hanging your laundry indoors and possibly wearing a mask outside, especially if you have allergies and/or respiratory problems. I’m not a medical expert, so definitely look up “Aeolian Dust” and “health effects” so you can gain a better idea about how it might affect your health, because as I said, the information about adverse health effects in Japan seems to be sparse.

The U.S. Consulate of Naha (Okinawa) issued this statement on April 28, 2011 about dealing with Aeolian dust, particularly if you have health issues:
If you suffer from allergies or have a pre-existing respiratory problem such as asthma, emphysema or other forms of chronic respiratory disease you may want to consider limiting outdoor activities when high dust levels are present.
– Wear glasses instead of contacts
– Close windows
– Wash exposed skin after returning indoors
– Wear long sleeves
– Cover mouth and nose
– Do not drink or eat food outside
– Drink water frequently
– People with lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion

Now, I want to introduce to you two tools you can use to determine the levels of “yellow sand” in your area on any given day, and also how to look at predictions: — CLICK HERE to read the rest of the post.

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