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Moves to tackle period shaming, openly discuss menstruation increase in Japan

Gomi Hayakawa, fifth from left, and other social media influencers discuss feminine hygiene product packaging as part of a Unicharm Corp. project, in Tokyo's Minato Ward, on June 6, 2019. (Mainichi/Aya Shiota)

TOKYO -- Social media influencers recently discussed feminine hygiene product packaging as part of a project Unicharm Corp. launched amid a spreading move to talk more openly about menstruation and increase the number of feminine hygiene item options in Japan.

"This will for sure go viral (on social media)," said one of the participants during a lively discussion held in a shared office space in Tokyo's Minato Ward on June 6. One of Japan's major hygiene products manufacturers, Unicharm, launched a project this month in response to a growing move to end the idea that women should feel ashamed of having their period or hide it.

Unicharm says the project, with the help of influencers, will be a driving force to reconsider customs surrounding menstruation in Japan and spread accurate knowledge about women's bodies.

The project has the slogan hashtag #NoBagForMe -- which is used to describe the practice of refusing non-translucent shopping bags offered to customers to hide feminine hygiene products that they bought. The slogan is part of a bid to end period shaming to reduce the stress that women endure during menstruation, including avoiding telling anyone that they feel unwell and suffering in silence.

Furthermore, Unicharm is also putting efforts into making well-designed packages in response to many people who consider carrying such products without a bag embarrassing.

A PR department official with the firm stated, "We want to create a society in which women can make a choice, so that people who want to hide feminine hygiene products can do so, while those who don't also have an option."

Project member and entrepreneur Gomi Hayakawa, 23, began to run specialty feminine care product stores from June, in places including department stores in Tokyo and the western Japan prefecture of Osaka.

Movie director Kiho Park, who is currently making a documentary film on menstruation, is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on May 20, 2019. (Mainichi/Aya Shiota)

"I want to create products with various designs that are easy to buy, even for people with gender dysphoria and those who are not comfortable with the concept that everything women-related should look cute," said Hayakawa. She added, "With more options, women can take the initiative over their periods, and talk about it more openly."

Meanwhile, 32-year-old movie director Kiho Park, from the western Japan prefecture of Hyogo, has been interviewing various people about their experiences involving menstruation to make a documentary film. Park explains that he is interested in what a life with menstruation would be like.

He said, "While women are familiar with having their period, there are too many things about it that men don't understand."

Park aims to complete the documentary by around autumn. For the project, he has interviewed people including a company worker, an athlete, a woman who has reached menopause and even a man. Many of his interviewees contacted him through Twitter saying they wanted to share their experiences.

"Every individual has a compelling story to tell, and a lot of them want to talk about it. I hope that by getting many people to know about individual stories it would change our society's menstrual taboos," Park commented.

Hikaru Tanaka, an expert on historical sociology considers these society-changing moves as part of a "third menstruation boom," following the introduction of a sanitary belt in Japan during the Meiji era (1868-1912) and when disposable sanitary napkins were released in the 1960s.

Tanaka explained, "The performance of feminine hygiene products has fully evolved. Now, changes are taking place among the remaining issues, including how such products are used and society's views on menstruation."

(Japanese original by Aya Shiota, Integrated Digital News Center)

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