The Mystery Behind Tokyo’s Hazy, Yellow Skies

It’s been a week since the Tofugu team’s gotten back from Japan and I’m reading my Twitter feed. All of a sudden, I start seeing all of these crazy pictures of Tokyo. No, Godzilla’s not attacking — the skies above Tokyo are yellow and hazy. Tokyo looks like some sort of post-apocalyptic nightmare.

I check my Instagram and it’s the same story. Picture after picture shows me a Tokyo that’s radically different from the city with clear skies I saw the week before. It looks more like LA in the summer than Tokyo in the spring.

What’s happening? Has residual radiation from Fukushima finally soured the atmosphere? Has Chinese air made of pure pollution finally made it to Japan? Is it the robot apocalypse?!

The Official Explanation

No need to fear folks, the Japan Meteorological Agency has said that it’s simply haze.

How did it happen? The story is that an unusually hot day in Tokyo coupled with a cold weather front and a strong wind helped kick up dust from the ground.

A little unusual, but certainly not anything too dangerous.

The Plausible Alternative

Or maybe it wasn’t just haze. Maybe it did, in fact, come from China.

Many people suspect that the yellow skies over Tokyo were due to a natural phenomenon called “Asian Dust,” (黄砂 in Japanese). The basic gist of Asian Dust is that windstorms carry dust, sand, and dirt from deserts in mainland Asia to Japan. Surviving in Japan has a good write up about Asian Dust.

asian-dust

Photo by shin–k

But while Asian Dust is a natural, regular occurence, that’s not to say that it’s completely harmless. Besides the obvious problem of reduced visibility, there’s lots of other problems with Asian Dust.

Not only can strong winds from Asian Dust disrupt handshake events with your favorite idol group, it can also carry pollutants over from China and other countries on the Asian mainland. Asian Dust isn’t incredibly harmful, but it’s still a bit of a menace.

But Asian Dust isn’t even the worst possibility out there.

The Frightening Conspiracy

Assuming that these first two explanations are wrong, the only remaining possibility is that the phenomenon affecting Tokyo was entirely pollution from China. Giant clouds full of lead, asbestos, and Chinese toothpaste float over Japan, turning the country into a nightmarish hellscape.

It’s not that hard to imagine; China has had a pretty bad track record on environmental issues since Mao. The government’s philosophy has largely been “let the environment serve the people,” regardless of the cost.

And it’s really shown. Air pollution in China has literally been off the charts recently, causing Japanese people to worry about PM 2.5, or pollution that’s 2.5µm or less in diameter. PM 2.5 is dangerous because it’s small enough to penetrate deep into the body.

cloud

But why would the Japan Meteorological Agency hide all of this and say that the phenomenon was just “haze?” That’s entirely up to speculation.

Maybe China offered every JMA employee a free iPhone from Foxconn. Maybe Japan is keeping its silence in exchange for the Senkaku islands. Or maybe Japan is using China’s giant pollution clouds to turn its people into a new, mutated super race.

I’m no meteorologist, but I know one thing for sure: I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Keep asking questions. The truth is out there!

  • Kamizushi Akinari

    You forgot a 4rth Explanation: aliens! ;)

  • Red

    I’ve been reading quite a bit about this on nhk easy. It’s a pretty interesting story to follow

  • Brad

    I believe this has happened before actually. I’m not 100%, but I have vague memories of living in Southern Japan as a child and looking out my window to see pure yellow haze. It terrified me, but now I’ve got some inkling as to why this occurs. Great article!

  • DAVIDPD

    Everywhere in East Asia gets this. Korea, Japan, China. It’s dust kicked up from the Mongolian desert.

  • ジョサイア
  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    It’s NOT only Tokyo!
    Everybody has been making such a big deal out of it since it hit Tokyo, but the day before that it hit the Kansai region where I live and NOBODY talked about that.
    Ok, I admit that it was much worse in Tokyo, but come on!

    And all the freaky stuff in the air this year is driving me crazy.
    It’s not only the sand and smog and whatnot, but the pollen from Japanese cedar trees (called “sugi”) that cause hay fever for millions of people in Japan (including me).

    Greetings from the one sitting in front of her laptop with a mask and itchy red eyes. (T_T)/

  • HorrorChan

    Fifth explanation: Some one has been going into their TV.

  • http://twitter.com/Kerensa Kerensa

    Kumamoto issued a warning last week about the PM2.5, asking people to stay home and indoors. There are masks on the market selling for 3,000 yen a box (25 masks) but I’m a little skeptic.

    If it was haze in Tokyo and not related to the pollution coming from China then I’m a little relieved. But at the same time there’s still the pollution problem, which supposedly can cause cancer. Yeesh.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joel.alexander.980 Joel Alexander
  • Meg

    That sounds terrible, I hope you start feeling better sooner or later.

  • Meg

    All I have to say is that I reeeeeeaaaallly hope this isn’t pollution…

  • shiroi

    If the pollution is small enough to get all up in your body tissues, how the flip is a little $1 paper mask going to do anything to stop it.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Hmm, have they tried turning on vacuums and just, I dunno, waving them around in the air, or something? Seems like that would fix the problem eventually.

  • http://twitter.com/Cupucuups Hamyo

    what!! zooming Japan had been invaded with this weirdy weather!!?? hope you will be okay out there. Get well soon :)

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    No offense, but that advice really sucks.

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMan81 Raymond Chuang

    If you’re read the English Wikipedia article on “Asian Dust,” the problem has gotten worse in recent years due to the fact the dust storms–which start in the deserts of Xinjiang and Qinghai provinces–often are mixed with the air pollutants from the many industrial facilities and coal-burning powerplants in northern China. This makes the duststorms worse than normal, to say the least.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Thanks so much! :)

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Thank you! I hope so, too! T___T

  • http://twitter.com/Jocelyne117 JoJocelyn

    Exactly what I had thought. You should watch the Midnight Channel.

  • http://twitter.com/Kerensa Kerensa

    I pretty much feel the same way. If there’s a crack in the mask, stuff is going to get in. Yes, it could be a matter of, “but at least it isn’t as much as if I didn’t wear this mask” but it isn’t going to help much. Time to invest in a gas mask, I guess.

  • http://twitter.com/ElohimGames Elohim Games

    Am I wierd if I say I miss the smell of Japan? :o I just thought of that just now, I’m going back there on the 15th of april.

  • http://twitter.com/_amywheeler Amy Wheeler

    Something quite similar happened where I live in Australia a while ago (stretched from Sydney right down the south coast, not sure about north of Sydney though) but it was more… red. Since our deserts are mainly red and all. It lasted for a few days and people with asthma were strongly encouraged not to go outside.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ken.seeroi Ken Seeroi

    Mystery? I dunno; here in Japan, I haven’t seen anybody hiding this. The reasons for it are reported almost daily on the news, and I wrote about them on my site as well. It’s a combination of dust (as you noted, 黄砂, or
    “yellow sand”) from Mongolia, and particulates from factories in China (referred to here as PM 2.5). And it’s a huge problem. The kids, the dog, everything’s orange.

  • http://twitter.com/SicaTuyet Jessica Tuyet Ngo

    I thought this was normal every year? It’s not only Japan though, Korea is also affected too. Apparently, it’s not that harmful. It might affect your eyes, and you might see more people walking around with masks, but that’s about it.

  • chuy

    lmao