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Free sanitary pad dispensers on trial at women's restrooms in Tokyo, Osaka

A dispenser from which a user can receive a sanitary pad after downloading an app on their smartphone is seen in the Tokyo suburban city of Musashino on May 19, 2022. (Mainichi/Mei Nammo)

TOKYO -- A western Japan venture company is offering free sanitary napkins via dispensers installed inside women's individual restroom stalls at commercial complexes and train stations in Osaka Prefecture and the greater Tokyo area, in the hope that the trial service will help make the items as prevalent as toilet paper.

    Next Innovation Inc., a medical startup based in the city of Osaka, launched the initiative after deeming it a social problem that sanitary pads were not regularly stocked in restrooms like toilet paper.

    Under the service dubbed "Toreluna," two dispensers were installed at Kirarina Keio Kichijoji shopping mall in the Tokyo suburban city of Musashino on May 19. Users who have downloaded a dedicated app on their smartphones can receive sanitary napkins from dispensers installed in women's restrooms when they scan a QR code posted on the wall of individual stalls. Each user can receive one sanitary pad every two hours, and up to seven pads per month.

    When this reporter used the service, the napkin was available in less than a minute, as the service requires no entry of personal data or other information. While some public bathrooms have pad vending machines near the sinks, the new service is available within individual stalls.

    A variety of sanitary products, from those for daytime to nighttime use, are seen at a store in Tokyo on Feb. 5, 2021. (Mainichi/Miyuki Fujisawa)

    Yuri Fukunaga, head of the company's Toreluna business department, said, "It is often the case that women notice their period has unexpectedly come when they're inside the individual restroom stall. We've made it possible for women to use sanitary items right away without emerging from the stall and being spotted by others or having to run to a convenience store to get one."

    The initiative was inspired by a survey conducted by the company targeting some 2,400 customers. Over half of the respondents said that they "felt a heavy financial burden from purchasing sanitary napkins," and that they had "experienced trouble" when they suddenly started bleeding and were not carrying napkins.

    The firm concluded that the lack of a regular stock of women's pads in bathrooms was a social problem. It then spoke to its business clients, and has installed about 70 sanitary pad dispensers on a trial basis at facilities across the country, including at Aeon Mall Makuhari Shintoshin in the city of Chiba and Nankai Electric Railway Corp.'s Namba Station in Osaka.

    After hearing opinions and views from users of those facilities, the service is set to be fully put into operation at each location in January 2023.

    Free sanitary napkins are offered by the sink of a women's restroom at Tokyo Metropolitan Shinjuku High School in the capital's Shinjuku Ward on Dec. 6, 2021. (Mainichi/Asako Takeuchi)

    In a separate survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in February, targeting some 3,000 people, 8.1% of respondents said they had struggled to purchase sanitary pads after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The reason cited by many centered around financial issues, such as having "a low income."

    The company is hoping that the initiative will help eliminate so-called "period poverty," in which women cannot afford feminine hygiene products for financial reasons.

    (Japanese original by Mei Nammo, Tokyo Bureau)

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