Forget about tea leaves. As Japan’s birthrate declines and its population ages, the country's future can be foreseen in diaper sales.
Over the past decade, production of adult diapers, essential for caring for the elderly, has doubled in Japan.
Unicharm Corp., a major diaper maker, saw sales of adult diapers outpace infant diapers in the last fiscal year ending March 31, while forecasts indicate the same will happen throughout the industry over the next few years.
At an outlet of Tomod's drugstore in Kawasaki, infant and adult diapers take up roughly the same amount of shelf space.
"We used to put (adult diapers) on an inconspicuous shelf in the corner of the store, but with the increasing amount of at-home nursing care, we now treat them as an essential item," the store manager said.
Unicharm, which makes the Lifree series, began selling adult diapers on a significant scale in the late 1980s.
The company sold over 60 billion yen ($576 million) of the product in Japan in the previous fiscal year, slightly more than it did for infant diapers.
Sales of nursing care products in general have grown by around 10 percent annually in recent years.
Unlike with infant's diaper, a typical adult diaper has a separate cover and pad for absorbing urine.
Compared to an infant who excretes roughly 15 to 75 cubic centimeters of urine at a time, an elderly person will excrete twice that amount--around 150 cc.
Since adult diapers are larger and cost two to three times as much, companies offer products with replaceable pads to reduce the financial burden for users.
Sales are growing for underwear-type diapers that a person can put them on without assistance and products with a thin bladder control pad in case of minor incontinence.
Diaper makers are adding products like these to their lineups to allow seniors concerned about incontinence to go out for a walk or shopping.
Last year there were 5.33 million people in Japan certified for "long-term care need," twice the number of 10 years ago.
As production of infant diapers has peaked, companies are focusing on diapers for adults.
According to the Japan Hygiene Products Industry Association, whose members includes diaper makers, domestic production of adult diapers was around 300,000 tons last year, double the amount a decade ago.
Forecasts suggest that in a few years adult diaper production will exceed that of infant diapers.
In response, Oji Nepia Co., the maker of the Nepia Tender series, built a new adult diaper factory in the city of Fukushima in January.
Daio Paper Corp., which sells the Attento line of adult diapers, also plans to build a plant in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, and commence production in fiscal 2017.
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