Fertility in japan: Saori & Tomoko’s story
2nd July 2018
Saori and Tomoko, two Japanese women, founded the startup Life Circus at the end of 2016. They are on a mission to support women experiencing infertility, by sharing stories and experiences.
As founders, they have a very personal connection to the cause. Saori and Tomoko are both cancer survivors who experienced severe infertility. They both shared the same experience, alongside the life changing event of their cancer diagnosis, the shock suddenly being no longer able to have children.
They soon learnt that many other women were suffering with infertility. And support for them is fatally low in Japan. Women who continue to work and have children later, and suffer fertility issues, are treated as if it is “their own fault” or “something to be ashamed of,” and their internal distress is silenced.
The taboo of fertility problems in Japan
One out of 5.5 couples in Japan suffers from infertility. Japan has therefore become known as a “superpower of fertility treatment.”
Traditional customs regarding women’s fertility, such as “you are considered a fully grown adult only after you give birth” or “you can easily get pregnant naturally anytime” are still deeply rooted. Blood relationships are considered important, therefore the adoption of biologically unrelated children is very rare. In fact approximately 39,000 children are in care homes now, however, only about 500 adoptions are arranged annually.
The society seems to be divided between “lucky ones with children,” and “unfortunate ones without children.”Fertility problems are taboo, and people feel unable to talk openly about their experiences. There is little space to share how you undergo in-vitro fertilization (IVF), how you decide to adopt, or when to end the infertility treatment.
The idea of a community service, where people who are either experiencing these struggles or who have experienced them could openly speak out, was born. Aiming to support these women, Saori and Tomoko created UMU.
UMU – sharing real life stories
“UMU” is a storytelling platform that shares real-life stories of people’s fertility journey – from their experiences having children, not having children, infertility, changing genders and more. Therefore providing support to people in a similar situation as well as nurturing empathy towards other people, and their values and experiences.
By sharing stories, they aim to break the taboo and stigma. People who experience struggles with infertility should feel supported. They aim to break down traditional views on blood relations, marriage and gender – and show that there are many different ways of life, and any choice on is the right one.
They initially launched the storytelling platform “UMU and are now developing an iPhone App GoPRE( (in Japanese only) for the use of anyone undergoing fertility treatments.
“UMU” means to “give birth = create” in Japanese. Saori and Tomoko believe that a person overcoming traditional customs to create their own way of living and happiness creates (=umu) the “power to live” through their experience.