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Little Miss Period: the manga character challenging Japan's menstruation taboos

A manga character shaped like a pink blob with bright red lips and leggings is challenging taboos surrounding menstruation in Japan, but not everyone is convinced that Seiri-chan – Little Miss Period – is a force for good.

The anthropomorphised period, now the star of an anime movie of the same name, has received a largely positive response from women in Japan where talking in public about menstruation is often seen as dirty or embarrassing.

“Until now menstruation has been something to hide and many people completely lack a proper understanding of it,” said Kazue Muta, a sociology professor at Osaka University. “I can’t praise the manga 100% ... but it would be good if it were a step toward greater openness and education.”

The film version, released last month, is based on a manga by a male artist, Ken Koyama, that debuted in 2017 before being compiled into a book. The film opened in Taiwan this month and will debut in Hong Kong in January. Premieres in China and across south-east Asia are planned.

In the manga series, Seiri-chan adopts a blunt approach, “visiting” several women to administer a “period punch” to represent menstrual cramping. But she also supports them through their personal problems and metes out similarly debilitating punches to unsympathetic husbands.

The film has been lauded as an unusually honest portrayal of the frustrations felt by many women in Japan, where menstrual leave has been a legal right since 1947 but is rarely taken.

The Shinto religion’s belief that menstrual blood is “impure” prevents women from entering professional sumo rings or setting foot on a sacred Unesco world heritage site.

The film’s protagonist, Aoko, is a publishing company editor whose male boss shows little compassion for her monthly pain. “If only men could get periods, even just once a year,” she says.

Seiri-chan found herself at the centre of controversy in October when she appeared on “wellbeing badges” that women working at Daimaru department store in Osaka started wearing to indicate they were having their periods.

A female member of staff had reportedly suggested the badges for the 500 or so staff in the women’s products section to encourage understanding among colleagues and customers.

Some shoppers supported the idea but critics said the badges were an invasion of privacy and could leave them open to workplace harassment.

In response, Daimaru has said it will consider redesigning the badges to make them less conspicuous.

“We received positive messages about how the badges raised questions about our society … but [we] felt that resistance to making the topic of periods public was still strong,” it told the Kyodo news agency.