Dissatisfaction and frustration with the status quo becomes source of energy and passion for a young female powerhouse in FemTech and Urban Engineering.
Meet Urara Takaseki, a 3-time One Young World Ambassador who is currently changing the status quo in several areas in desperate need of leadership.
Urara’s upbringing was certainly not the norm for most Japanese youth. She spent a bulk of her elementary school years in the USA while her father was transferred there on business. Though, in Japan, Urara started her school days a shy introvert with few friends, the schooling in the USA allowed to express herself more freely. This, in turn, helped her to focus on what interested her. It wasn’t long until Urara became a bit of an extrovert and, according to some of her teachers, a rowdy child. Urara’s 7 years in the USA saw her playing sports and making friends quickly. Quick to speak her mind, she attended PTA meetings and saw how the “adults” did it at an early age.
But, her return to Japan flipped her world upside down. Suddenly, a young Japanese junior high school student totally fluent in English finds herself having to re-immerse herself into her native Japanese culture without a command of the Japanese language or culture. Her strong points become weak points to be pointed out, nails to be hammered down (as the old proverb says). Her outspokenness gets her into trouble more often than not and, only a handful of sports are available to girls. Even her teachers doubt her ability to get into college without a comparable command of Japanese and other subjects.
Not to be put into a box, Urara tries her hand at modeling after being headhunted by a well-known talent CEO. But, things worsen. She’s too dark-skinned. She’s too fat. She’s too busty. She’s too smart. On and on, what was supposed to be liberating becomes a social prison.
But, Urara has her mind set. She’s going to do things HER way. Enter One Young World.
She learned about One Young World from one of her teachers when she asked about opportunities to get involved with international organizations such as the United Nations and contribute to creating a sustainable society. She was eager to apply for ambassadorship only to discover that there was an age limit for the summit. One Young World delegates must be between 18 and 32 years old to qualify. But, Urara wanted to try anyway and she appealed to One Young World Japan directly, arguing that she thought even younger applicants should be welcomed to the summit to truly promote the empowerment of all youth. Her passion and boldness paid off and, that year she was selected as a “special delegate” to the 2014 One Young World summit in Dublin, Ireland..it’s youngest ever.
At the summit, she challenged the speakers on stage, speaking her mind as she’s always done. She met with other ambassadors and joined workshops held by renowned leaders such as Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, inspiring her to take action.
Her first experience at One Young World solidified Urara’s commitment to her studies. She entered Japan’s #2 ranked Keio University to study political science and began to once again meet like-minded people who shared the same passion for creating a responsible society. After founding a non-profit organization and taking on various leadership activities in college, she went on to join OYW again in 2017 and 2018.
She continued her studies at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Engineering to pursue research in urban planning. Although many suggested she attend a “global university” outside of Japan, she continued to study and work primarily in Japan, determined to put her English skills and global experience to use in local initiatives. She participates in international conferences, working with researchers and leaders around the world to create strong ties with the global community.
As she continued her research at the University of Tokyo and worked on her non-profit organizational goals, Urara began to experience changes in her health: her monthly periods, which were almost never an issue for her, were getting heavier and beginning to affect her daily life. Her period pains and hormonal imbalance were making her miss business meetings and class, and she was constantly worried about if she’d have enough menstrual pads or if her clothing would be stained with blood. It became overwhelmingly stressful, and she started seeking advice from other women around her.
Speaking to women around her made her realize how blind she had been to the various struggles that they had been going through all this time. Despite being a woman, she hadn’t been able to truly recognize the burden that most women experience, both physically and emotionally. This feeling of regret and frustration stuck with her, and she began to look into existing research and initiatives related to the topic of menstruation.
Around the same time, “period poverty” was becoming a topic of interest during the COVID-19 pandemic, drawing more attention toward period related issues. Though this was a step forward in tackling period related issues, it was only able to address the financial struggles of some ‘menstruators.’ Urara knew that, though period poverty is a crucial issue, it’s not the end of the story for most menstruators. She surveyed and interviewed hundreds of women to create a more detailed picture of the situation.
In thinking of a solution, she borrowed inspiration from her work in urban planning and smart mobility: building an infrastructure for providing menstrual pads that can be made accessible via a mobile platform. She spoke to her close friends and now co-founders, who, despite being male, were also surprised by how unaware they were about the topic. This was how “unfre.,” which aims to make menstrual pads retrievable in bathroom stalls everywhere, was born.
She now works with companies primarily in real estate and transportation fields to make “unfre.” a reality. Through her work, she creates opportunities for people to discuss various topics related to menstruation. One of the most common questions she gets from some of the non-menstruator members in her client companies is “why would menstrual pads need to be provided in our bathroom stalls if they’re already so cheap?” To that she replies, “Everyone can afford toilet paper, too. So, why do we provide toilet paper in bathroom stalls in public places?”
She hopes to reframe how menstruation is viewed and treated in society. Menstrual products are a necessity for the mobility and well-being of menstruators, and they are not, and should not be, a luxury that individuals choose to use. She emphasizes that the idea that providing menstrual pads is “an unfair treatment toward men who aren’t beneficiaries” is a grossly misled perception of menstruation and its place in society. She aims to engage major players in Japan, then to expand her activities globally in realizing her vision.