One after the other, the models strutted across the stage to bouncy ’80s dance tunes, all showing off designs of the same article of clothing — adult diapers.
Japan has one of the world's most rapidly aging societies, and the fashion show Thursday proved the country's diaper producers are intent on keeping the elderly clean and dry.
“Diapers are something that people don't want to look at,” said Kiyoko Hamada of the Aging Lifestyle Research Center, a leading organizer of the show.
“But if you make them attractive, then people can learn about them more easily,” she said.
Indeed, adult diapers are an increasingly common item in Japan, home to one of the world's longest average lifespans. More than 20 percent of the population is over 65, and the country is forecast to have the globe's largest number of centenarians — 1 million — by 2050, the U.N. says.
That means a booming market for adult diapers.
The Nikkei, Japan's leading business newspaper, conducted a survey this week that showed sales of adult diapers have more than doubled over the past decade, reaching an estimated 52.5 billion yen (US$500 million) this year.
While that's good news for manufacturers, the fashion show Thursday showed there's still a lot of uneasiness in Japan about this sometimes unseemly side of aging.
Before the models took over, players at the theater in downtown Tokyo acted out skits instructing viewers how to tell when elderly loved ones need diapers, how to convince them to put them on and how to properly use them.
In one skit, an elderly man shook his head in dismay after his wife pointed out that he wet the bed overnight again.
“Ah, maybe the loose-fitting diapers I use during the day aren't good to use at night,” he concluded, leading to a discussion about well-padded nappies made especially for nighttime use.
Like many events in Japan, the show was heavy on detailed information, showing how certain types of diapers suit the bedridden, such as models that can be wrapped around the midsection. Pants-like slip-on diapers, on the other hand, are more suitable for active oldsters.
“A lot of people make mistakes when choosing diapers,” said Hamada. “We can make it so people no longer feel uneasy about taking care of old people.”
The fashion show itself was half camp, half instruction.
Speakers blared oldie hits such as “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood as models jaunted on the stage with diapers pulled on over black tights.
Each model held a number to designate the model of the diaper. Some of the models, all volunteers, playfully shook their hips on the stage.
The crowd of several hundred people included diaper manufacturers, nursing home workers and doctors.
Nursing home caretakers Mitsuru and Aya Habuka watched with rapt attention, exclaiming when diaper models they hadn't seen before were displayed on stage.
“It was great to see so many different types of diapers all in one showing,” gushed Aya Habuka, 26. “I learned a lot. This is the first time that diapers are being considered as fashion.”