Diaper dilemma: Japan firm switches to adult nappies, ditches baby products amid demographic crisis

One of Japan’s largest manufacturers of disposable nappies says it will halt output of products designed for babies and shift entirely to those made for the elderly in the latest sign of the nation’s worsening population crisis.

In a statement published on Monday, Oji Nepia, a subsidiary of paper-product giant Oji Holdings, announced that it will stop manufacturing nappies for babies at its domestic factories in September.

The company will no longer produce its Whito and Genki! brands of baby nappies, the company said, because of dramatically declining demand. The company sold around 700 million nappies a year as recently as 2001, it said, but that had fallen to just 400 million units last year.

Given the government’s most recent statistics on births, that figure is very likely to continue to decline. There were just 758,631 children born in Japan in 2023, a record low. That came as a shock to the government, which was already struggling to come up with ways to halt the contraction in the population after predicting in 2017 that births would not fall below the 800,000-a-year level until 2030.
A mother feeds her 11-month-old at a restaurant for infants in a department store in Tokyo. Instead of meeting babies’ needs, Tokyo-based Oji intends to shift its focus to the other end of Japan’s population spectrum. Photo: AP

Last year also saw more than 1.59 million deaths in Japan. In 2022, children under the age of 15 accounted for less than 12 per cent of the total population, while nearly 30 per cent were aged 65 or older.

Instead of meeting babies’ needs, Tokyo-based Oji intends to shift its focus to the other end of Japan’s population spectrum, saying in the statement, “Going forward, we plan to strengthen production of adult disposable diapers, for which demand is expected to increase in Japan.”

The company also reiterated that it will continue to produce lines for babies at its overseas facilities, including in Malaysia and Indonesia, and it is aiming to increase sales in growing foreign markets.

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On a gradually declining trajectory since reaching a peak of 128.1 million in 2010, Japan’s population presently hovers around 125 million but is forecast to shrink to a mere 88 million in 2065.

Successive governments have proposed a wide range of measures to encourage couples to have more children, including greater financial support and additional parental leave, but it appears the authorities’ appeals for people to procreate are falling on deaf ears.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida – who has three sons with his wife, well above the national average of 1.3 for a woman during her lifetime – has expressed deep concern about the problem, describing it as an “existential crisis”.

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