TOKYO: On the sidewalks and the subways it's clear: Japan is becoming a sea of surgical masks. It's about pollen, about germs and even a little about China.
Simple masks. High-tech masks. Scented masks. Masks in pink and purple. Yano Research Institute says it's a 26 billion yen ($274 million) market. The industry leader, Kowa Co., says it plans to quintuple production this year.
The biggest reason is hay fever. Japan's pollen levels are five times higher than they were last spring. There's also concern about germs, and about pollution, especially tiny particles known as PM2.5. The government says PM2.5 levels are about the same as they were last year, but the media has played up the dangers and noted that much of the pollution is coming from China.