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West Japan teens making video for children to learn more about women's periods

Tosa Joshi Junior High School students are seen reading a script together. (Photo courtesy of Tosa Joshi Junior and Senior High School)

KOCHI -- Menstruation is still considered a taboo subject by many people in Japan. But a group of junior high school students in this west Japan city have launched production on a video to raise children's awareness about women's periods, believing that it is important to get information to people early.

    Recent years have seen a movement to strip away the taboo and open the way for broad, open conversation in Japanese society about menstruation. But there is still a strong tendency to consider it a no-go topic. Meanwhile, being unable to afford women's sanitary products, known as "period poverty," has become a social problem.

    "First of all, it's important to understand this correctly and be considerate of others." Six students at the private Tosa Joshi Junior and Senior High School in Kochi are reading a script for the video in their classroom. But this all began with a suggestion this past spring.

    Seeing the students' interest in social issues, such as talking about the environment in an English speech contest, 38-year-old Tosa Joshi teacher Machiko Shimomura called on them to apply to the Kochi children's fund. This is a Kochi Municipal Government project that provides subsidies of up to 200,000 yen (about $1,740) for voluntary community development activities by children and students.

    After Shimomura's suggestion, six third-year junior high school students got together to apply: Nanasa Tsuno, Kiyomi Nishimori, Natsumi Sakai, Masako Ikemoto, Ayaka Okazaki, and Koharu Shimasaki. At first, they discussed tourism and disaster prevention themes. However, an episode that they learned about while researching disaster prevention drastically changed their direction.

    During an earthquake emergency, a man at an evacuation center handed out one sanitary pad to each woman as a relief item. Sanitary pads are usually changed every few hours, so one pad per person is far from enough, but the man did not know this. Tsuno, the leader of the group, recalled, "When I heard this story, I thought it would be good to have a theme only girls' schools can offer."

    The evaluation process for the fund involves elementary to high school student "children judges." Some group members were concerned that the theme might be too vivid and received poorly by these judges. Ikemoto confided that periods are "a taboo subject, and I felt vaguely guilty."

    Nevertheless, everyone was united in their desire to do something that only they could do, and the students decided to make the video to convey knowledge about menstruation to elementary and junior high school students. They made a presentation to the judging committee in June, and secured the grant.

    The video will be animated to make it easier for children to understand, and the story will be told through conversations between three people: a school teacher, and a male and a female student. The group members researched the issue together on the internet and in books. They have included a wide range of topics, from period poverty and the mechanisms of menstruation to premenstrual syndrome, which causes many symptoms including emotional instability and headaches. They plan to complete the project by the end of this year and distribute the DVD to public elementary and junior high schools in the city in February 2022.

    The more they learn, the less disgusted and embarrassed the students feel about menstruation, and they are also able to have a more considerate and caring point of view toward others. Shimomura said, "The students are learning new perspectives that will benefit people, and they are moving forward."

    About women's periods, Nishimori said, "By talking and sharing with others, I've come to think, 'It's OK to talk about it (menstruation).' To create an environment where it is OK to ask someone for help, I hope we can first get rid of the feeling of disgust."

    Their grassroots activities are sure to lead to a society where women can live comfortably in the future.

    (Japanese original by Shiori Kitamura, Kochi Bureau)

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