Japanese store 'rethinks' badges for staff on periods

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Period badgeImage source, WWD Japan

A Japanese department store where staff could wear badges if they were on their period has said it will "rethink" that policy.

The badges - which featured a cartoon character known as Miss Period - were introduced in October.

The intention was that staff could get extra help, or longer breaks, if they were wearing one.

"It was never the intention to share the menstrual information with their customers," a spokeswoman told the BBC.

Why were the badges introduced?

The Daimaru branch at Osaka Umeda introduced the badges in October for the 500 or so staff in the women's wardrobe section.

The badges, which were voluntary, were introduced after a suggestion from employees themselves, and were linked to the opening of a new section of the store.

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On one side, the badge said the new section devoted to "women's wellbeing", was opening on 22 November. On the other side was the "Seiri-chan" mascot (seiri meaning period or menstruation).

The idea, Daimaru spokeswoman Yoko Higuchi told the BBC, was to "improve the working environment" for staff by sharing the information.

What did staff and customers make of it?

When the store told the media about the badges on 21 November, some outlets incorrectly reported that the purpose was to let customers - as well as colleagues - know if a woman was on her period.

One unnamed Daimaru executive told local media there were then "many complaints" from the public, with "some of them concerning harassment".

Ms Higuchi said some staff "didn't see the point" in the badges or were "reluctant" to wear them.

"But others were positive," she added. "If you saw a colleague was having her period, you could offer to carry heavy things for her, or suggest she takes longer breaks, and this support would be mutual."

She also said customers had phoned in with their support.

What is happening now?

Daimaru are not cancelling the policy, but they are rethinking it.

Ms Higuchi said they would come up with a different way of sharing the information - without alerting the public.

'The conversation is changing in a big way'

Analysis by Yuko Kato, BBC News, Tokyo

As in many countries, menstruation in Japan was something women rarely talked about in public, let alone with men. And the subject was always tinged with shame.

But that is changing in a big way.

A few days ago, a widely-watched morning programme "Asaichi", on the public broadcaster NHK, spent over an hour - with both female and male commentators - discussing how to talk frankly about menstruation with your family and friends.

When the consumption tax rate was raised from 8% to 10% in October, menstrual products were subjected to the hike. This caused indignation among many women - and has added to the social dialogue about women's periods.

While social media has contributed to this openness, another impetus has been the experience of many women in shelters during natural disasters.

We've seen many (uncorroborated) stories on social media about women in those shelters being told to control their bleeding, or told that asking for tampons was contemptible.

One reported response in the shelters, for example, was: "How can you be thinking about sex at a time like this?"