Femtech products support women’s daily life in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A sales staff arranges moisture-absorbing sanitary shorts at a Uniqlo store in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 15.

Major Japanese companies are putting more focus on the development of femtech-related products and services that help women deal with wellness issues they face.

From moisture-absorbing underwear for use during menstruation and menstrual cups, to items that help women deal with the physical issues that occur during pregnancy or menopause, a wide range of products make use of technology to support women.

Since about 10 years ago, femtech goods and services have become popular overseas, mainly in countries in Western Europe and North America. In Japan, the market is growing, centering around goods and services related to menstruation.

A start-up’s online sales of femtech products have been leading the way in Japan, but this year, major companies dealing in clothing and daily goods have entered the market. There is now a broader selection of such goods and services for women.

Menstrual items

In mid-September, Uniqlo Co. started selling period underwear that can absorb 30 to 40 milliliters. The triple-layered underwear made with the company’s Airism material is also antibacterial and odor- and water-resistant.

Uniqlo has set the price at ¥1,990, lower than similar products being sold for around ¥5,000 by major underwear manufacturers.

“There were many requests for the product from customers, and their response after its release was great,” said Tadashi Yanai, chairman and president of Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing Co. “By discovering the needs of people who face various situations, we want to continue developing better products.”

According to a public relations official at the company, the product has been well-received by people across a wide age range. A typical comment is along the lines of, “As the material feels smooth and comfortable, I have no sense of discomfort, even if I wear it all day long.”

Unicharm Corp. has developed a menstrual cup and began selling the product on a limited basis in late April. A 30-year-old from Chiba Prefecture, who started using the product after giving birth, said: “I can’t even feel it. Daily life during my period has become very comfortable.”

New types of services related to femtech have also started. From this month, the Prince Park Tower Tokyo has been offering an overnight package for women to heal mentally and physically through listening to infrasound or bathing in a natural hot spring.

Raising productivity

The global femtech market is projected to reach $50 billion (about ¥5.7 trillion) in 2025, according to U.S. market research firm CB Insights, which is why major companies are being drawn to this sector.

Another reason has to do with productivity in Japan. According to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the annual economic loss due to menstruation is ¥682.8 billion.

“Pushing ahead with the improvement of the working environment for women will lead to enhanced productivity at businesses,” the ministry said in a presentation material.

In Japan, women tend to avoid discussing topics related to their physical health such as menstruation. Many women often put up with their period-related symptoms, considering it normal to be in pain.

According to a labor force survey taken by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, however, the employment rate of women ages 15 and over was 51.8% in 2020, up 5.5 percentage points from 2010. As the number of working women has increased and topics such as menstruation are more visible than before via social media and the like, women’s interest in femtech goods and services has grown.

As the economy ministry anticipates that the femtech sector has the potential to become a growth industry, in June it began extending support. For instance, it has designated 20 business schemes with femtech-related service projects to be eligible for government subsidy.

For many people in Japan, their attention was first drawn to femtech thanks to Fermata Inc., which was founded in October 2019. The company started selling only femtech-related products online. This proved so popular that it began selling some of its items at a store in the Roppongi district of Tokyo in 2020.

That year, when various femtech-related products came on the market, was dubbed the “first year of femtech in Japan.” This year as well, the trend continues.