Life in Japan

How Dangerous Is Air Pollution in Japan?

People often ask me if it’s safe to visit Japan.
Of course, most are referring to the 2011 incident in Fukushima. They are worried about radiation. Some are afraid of yet antoher strong quake or tsunami.

However, there’s something else they should be worried about – and that is air pollution!

 

Air Pollution Caused By PM2.5

I’m sure you’ve all heard of PM2.5 – “The Invisible Killer“.
PM2.5 is a mixture of many small, harmful particles that lower the air quality severely.
Here’s a great infographic by Greenpeace East Asia that will tell you everything you need to know about PM2.5 and how to protect yourself (*click to enlarge):

Air Pollution in Japan PM2.5

Air Pollution in Japan And Real-Time Air Quality Map

China has emitted a lot of PM2.5 due to its overreliance on coal and occasionally this ‘crap’ is coming over to Japan. It has become more and more severe in the past few months. There have been a few days when the sky was hazy and visibility was low. Quite scary. To be fair, it’s not only China that causes Japan’s PM2.5 levels to rise. Some of it is “homemade” as well.

PM2.5 is not to be taken lightly. It can harm your health and even lead to cancer!

So, if you plan to visit Japan and are worried about air pollution, you can check the current level of pollution using this real-time air quality map.

Air Pollution in Japan PM2.5

If the sky is very hazy and the real-time radar shows high numbers (which means it’s at a level where it’s dangerous for your health), stay inside. If you need to go out, then wear a mask. But be careful, the typical surgical masks that are commonly worn in Asia won’t work as the particles are too fine. You’ll have to buy special N95 masks to protect yourself.

The air quality in Japan (and East Asia in general) has become quite bad compared to the rest of the world which the following map shows well:

Air Pollution in Japan PM2.5

(*click to enlarge image)

Red means it might be dangerous for anybody’s health (no matter if you have a respiratory disease, are an elderly or pregnant). Violet means it’s very unhealthy and that the entire population might be affected. Darkread means that pretty much everyone might experience serious health effects.

 

Most Japanese Don’t Seem To Be Aware Of Air Pollution

Of course, I don’t know what the majority of Japanese people is thinking. However, from my observations and conversations with Japanese co-workers and friends, it seems like most of them aren’t worried about the recent air pollution at all.

Air Pollution in Japan PM2.5

Example: Osaka (Shigita) – Quality of Air: Unhealthy Level, June 1st 2014

I know that this is a “typical Japanese thing”. I’ve experienced the same behavior after the disaster in 2011. Nobody panicked, everybody stayed calm. But I wonder if that’s the right strategy here. I don’t want anyone to panic, but I think this should be discussed in the media more. People need to be aware of it, so they can work on reducing the emission and also learn how to protect themselves.

I also rarely hear any warnings on TV or read anything in the newspaper. I couldn’t find a single word about the recent super high PM2.5 readings in Western Japan!

 

Air Pollution in Japan: Ignore or Panic?

What’s your opinion about this? I don’t want anyone to panic, but I wish people would be more aware of this issue.
We all have to work hard to cut down crappy emissions like that. Apparently it’s possible. Just look at the world map and you’ll see plenty of countries with clean air.

Do you think there’s anything the individual could do?
How worried are you? Are you wearing masks or staying inside on a day with high pollution levels?
If you don’t live in Asia, were you even aware of this issue?

Let’s discuss in the comments below!~

23 Comments

  • I don’t live in Japan (as I’m pretty sure you know), but I was aware of this issue. I had heard about the terrible air quality in China for a long time, although I wasn’t sure of exactly how much it affected Japan until I watched one of BusanKevin’s videos where he mentioned that it was affecting him and causing coughs and watery eyes. Scary stuff! I already have allergies (hay fever) that can get pretty bad, causing tightness in my chest and watery eyes, so I would be afraid of my symptoms getting worse due to the poor air quality. I would do everything I can to be extra careful during the times the air quality is especially poor!

    I do agree with you that people should be more aware of the issue. Not talking about it won’t solve anything. Japan, a place of many great high-tech products, get with it! :disappointed:

    • Yes, Kevin lives in Kansai just like me and it has been pretty bad recently. :/
      I do have hay fever as well, but I try to be as careful as possible. I don’t own one of these special masks, but I’m wearing normal masks and trying to avoid being outside for too long when the sky is hazy and PM2.5 levels are high.

  • I have hay fever as well, but here one worries about pollen count, not air pollution. The DC area isn’t industrial, so things aren’t too bad, except on hot summer days when it gets hazy. I don’t bother with masks, they are uncomfortable. Smog is a problem in some cities, like Denver, and of course Los Angeles is known for it.

    Emissions have been reduced for the past 20 years, of course. Frankly, I don’t worry very much about air pollution, and I don’t trust Greenpeace. I think they are quite likely to exaggerate dangers.

    However I have no doubt that China is horribly polluted. Coal in such amounts is no doubt noxious. I also believe they have no safeguards about things like that [hygiene is very poor]. Some control of coal can do wonders, as its bad effects diminish with higher quality fuel. London used to have those famous pea soup fogs. They don’t have them anymore, because you can only use anthracite, and because people have switched to gas.

    Unfortunately, Japan even gets sand from the Mongolian desert brought by the wind, and no doubt they get some pollution from China as well.

    • It might be true that Greenpeace is exaggerating, but I’ve researched this and PM2.5 is dangerous and is a huge problem in certain parts of the world (mainly China, of course).
      I think people should put pressure on China to produce in a cleaner way. I know that this is difficult and I’m aware that it’s far more expensive, but sooner or later that will be the only way to keep our air more or less clean.

  • If we didn’t all consume so much stuff that we don’t need, China wouldn’t need to manufacture it all. If they weren’t manufacturing so much, they wouldn’t need to burn such huge amounts of filthy coal.

  • I once had to wear a mask when visiting Los Angeles and have never returned since, so I can imagine what could happen J., but is this a regular condition (all year long) that exists in the large cities of Japan??

    FYI, There is one solution being offered that could change the entire energy calculation for the world; its called solar roadways. They’ve developed a new smart solar energy system that can be used to resurface all existing roadways and that could create a surplus of electrical energy for a country. Check out this website on the new proposed infrastructure that will alleviate the need for coal burning and nuclear power plants all together:

    http://www.solarroadways.com/intro.shtml

    This quote explains the potential: “It has often been fashionable to try to trash new ideas and inventions, especially those like powered flight that garner widespread public interest. So it’s hard to be surprised at the surge of criticism directed at Solar Roadway’s vision to turn America’s roads into power-generating solar panels. The brainchild of Scott Brusaw, these “solar roads” could generate three times the energy the U.S. uses in a year — while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent — if they replaced all of America’s roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, etc.”

    I hope that the air quality of Japan improves, but they will have a hard time convincing the Chinese to make any concessions for the health of the Japanese people. BTW, there is a clean method for burning coal, it just costs more and the Chinese aren’t willing to spend the money for that. I’m also sure that air pollution will reduce the potential energy produced by solar panels.

    Jess,

    You can thank the globalists (otherwise known as the Bilderbergs) that came up with the idea of moving all their manufacturing facilities to other nations from the US, so that they could maximize profits (cheaper goods that all people would want) and not have to worry about the pollution that they create for the countries that house their factories. I can’t blame people for wanting to have material goods, that’s only human nature. But it would be nice if people were educated on practices that didn’t waste so many resources and industries were better educated to promote cleaner energy methods and think about the planet and the human race as a whole instead of their current narrow view of humanity.

    • Bud, at the moment it’s luckily not a regular or permanent thing. There are days when it’s really bad, but that depends on the weather. If the winds are strong, they can bring a lot of that stuff over from China.
      I’m just worried that it might become worse in the future if China’s not trying to cut down their usage of coal.

      Japan has just recently discovered solar panels as a great source of natural energy. It’s slowly spreading throughout the country now, so maybe that’s indeed a good option for the future. I like the idea of solar roads. Thanks for the link! :D

  • I’ve never heard of PM2.5 before today. I knew China had a huge problem with air pollution (particularly highlighted around the Beijing Olympics) but I didn’t consider how it affected neighbouring countries. :teary:

    I found out that the EPA in Ireland does monitor PM2.5 levels around the country and they have a map where you can see the various levels. Thankfully there are only two levels for the entire country – the west coast is the highest level of “good quality” and the east coast and major towns in the west are the second level of “good quality”, even in Dublin, the capital city.

    Like Simone, it’s mostly pollen counts that people look for here; air pollution is rarely, if ever, mentioned. The only thing I can recall recently is that we had Saharan sand covering our cars for a while at the beginning of April, but that’s all.

    The

    • Pollen are a big issue here in Japan as well and every year more and more people are suffering from it.
      After 4 years of living in Japan, I also suddenly got allergic to sugi (Japanese cedar trees).

      The air pollution in Japan is not a daily problem, but there are days when it can become severe and I’m a bit worried that those days will increase in the future unless China will cut down their coal usage. :/

  • wow, i’ve been living in Sapporo and completely oblivious to the fact that parts of Japan is suffering from severe air pollution. I pretty much have it easy up here. Thanks for a very informative post.

  • I think a big problem with air pollution in Japan is the fact it’s downwind from all those uncontrolled coal-fired power plants in China. As such, much of that air pollution gets blown east from northeastern China over the Korean Peninsula and Japan, and sometimes you get really bad air in Japan, especially when the dust storms that start in the Gobi Desert get blown eastwards and turn the skies of Japan into a tan-color haze like the old Stage II alert smog that used to plague Los Angeles up until the early 1990’s.

    This is why China just signed that huge deal with Russia to import natural gas–the Chinese wants to replace their dirty coal-fired power plants with far cleaner natural gas-fired power plants.

      • China doesn’t have a choice in regards to cleaning up its air–the air pollution from the coal-fired power plants are literally chocking many cities in that country and causing a huge number of people dying from respiratory ailments. Hence the gigantic natural gas deal with Russia–natural gas burns very cleanly compared to coal, and that will dramatically reduce the PM2.5 emissions from China.

        Once China switches to natural gas for its power plants, it also means the air pollution over the Korean Peninsula and Japan will be much lower, especially western Japan.

  • Of course, it doesn’t help at all that literally everyone in Japan leaves their cars running as often as possible in the morning, whilst at convenience store, grocery shopping, or just taking a nap. Japanese-created pollution is huge and no Japanese I know will admit it. It’s always:

    from China
    from Vietnam
    from Russia
    from Korea
    from USA

    The model here is: blame everyone else and never educate your citizenry to fix what they can. My small village is rife with car smoke, more so than at any time in my life. There is a school next to a logistics firm that keeps every truck running 24/7 whether or not they are delivering. The smog chokes the school. Even walking/running in the Tokyo area is way more tiring than it is in other pollution-friendly countries.

    It’s not just China. China needs to adopt cleaner practices and as mentioned above, we need to change our purchase habits. But Japan needs to look at its own backyard before wagging the finger. Air quality here is bad, China or no China.

    It’s simple: no one cares at all.

    • I agree, ohm.
      Actually, I was really surprised when I found out that a lot of Japanese don’t care and keep their car running while leaving to buy drinks or whatever.

      People do care, but … I guess the wrong people do. Those who don’t have the power to change anything. I mean, it doesn’t help much if the few people who care try their best in their daily life to reduce air pollution. That’s noble, but it will never be enough.

  • I would LOVE to visit Japan someday. I’ve wanted to go since I was 5. (Now I’m 11) Japan seems amazing, I’ll just be sure to be carful if the air pollution is really bad. But I don’t think it’s that bad.

  • Do you think the Japanese government gives out false information about the pollution? When I read articles that compare the air or water quality, I am always surprised that Japan seems to have better water and almost the same air quality.

    As for the water in Tokyo, I can say it smells terrible but I can’t tell if that’s because they use less chlorine or more. It smell and tastes worse than in Germany but I think it’s kind of similar if used for showering. However I think it’s literally ‘dirty’, I don’t know.

    As for air quality, I think Tokyo is pretty terrible. My pores clog terribly here (within a day). I get really weird skin problems sometimes which I haven’t experienced after my late teens in Germany. And I often suddenly feel nauseous just breathing the air when returning to Tokyo after a holiday back home, I already have it the day I come from the airport!

    I know it’s all just personal experience but I’ve been living here for 2 years straight and 4 years on and off before. I just think they kind of lie about the air pollution at least. They lie about everything else, so it would not be too surprising. I am a sensitive person in general but I think Japanese people might just not be used a different quality since most of them don’t stay long enough overseas.
    I would love to hear about your personal experiences by the way.

    Also, I think the bluelight is starting to be a problem here too because they also have a very high light setting in department and drugstores, which often causes hurt in the back of my eyes. Hope that all doesn’t sound too whiny now but I do think these facts make it rather uncomfortable to live here longterm, at least in the bigger cities.

    • No, I don’t think they give (completely) false information.
      In fact, Japan has one of the cleanest lakes in the world (located in Hokkaido).

      There’s always a huge difference between big cities and the countryside – Japan is no exception.

      I never liked the tab water very much because of the chlorine, but at least it’s not as hard as in most parts of Germany.
      You’re not the first (German) person that told me about skin problems due to the water in Japan.
      I personally never had any issues, not when I was travelling and not where I was living.

      I don’t think the water quality is directly related to the air pollution.

      Tokyo is a huge city and as such struggles with more air pollution like other big cities as well.
      It’s still far better than in China. I think the pollution that is blown over from China to Japan is the bigger problem here.

      I’m sorry to hear about your problems, though.
      Thanks for sharing your personal experience with us.

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