While the latest OECD global employment outlook report reveals that Japan is finally making a major progress in reducing its total working hours, for those of us living here, it takes a simple train ride to notice a different reality. Glasses tilted, people dropping their phones after dozing off on the comfortably bouncing long commute to and from work, worn out faces and impressive marathons through stations in a desperate attempt to catch the last train (because after work drinking sessions are also part of the job!), it is sadly noticeable: Japan is an exhausted nation.
On the flip side of this, however, there is also another reality: it is exactly due to this pervasive social concern that Japan has continued to stand at the forefront of stress relief research and development, annually releasing dozens of commercial products and academic studies to help its nation stand on its feet.
Venex, a venture company based in Kanagawa Prefecture, is one of those pioneering visionaries, and its mission to help Japan and the world find a solution to exhaustion and better quality rest has taken the company farther than it could have ever imagined.
“Since the very beginning, we had a very clear idea of what we wanted to achieve,” says Venex vice president Dr. Hideki Katano during a recent interview at the company’s office in Atsugi. He had just briefly returned to Japan from Europe, where he typically spends half of the year working at Venex’ subsidiary company in Germany, Venex Europe GmbH.
“We wanted to expand the global regeneration market and find a solution to the growing problem of exhaustion in a sustainable, yet simple and user-friendly way,” he explains.
Coming from very different backgrounds — Dr. Katano, a paramedical staff and researcher, Taiichi Nakamura, a caregiver at a facility for the elderly, and Shigenobu Hoshi, a sales director — the three founders of Venex came together in 2005 in search of a solution. It was initially Nakamura’s experience in caregiving that helped the trio narrow down the concept of their business plan. During the many years of his work helping bedridden patients, he had been aware that many people were suffering from severe bedsores. A continuous lack of movement causes poor blood circulation and, in extreme cases, leads to cell damage. The three began thinking that if they could invent a material that would improve blood circulation just by touching the skin, it would help millions of bedridden people, as well as those carers responsible for massaging and moving the patients every three hours to prevent blood clots.
Thanks to Dr. Katano’s medical research background, the company began searching for hints in nanosized minerals that could be kneaded into the fiber strings, which as a result would lead to an improved blood circulation and regeneration.
Simply by wearing the clothes, users would report better sleep, lessened exhaustion and increased relaxation.
After a year and a half of various experiments, the newly formed team found that a certain combination of platinum-mixed minerals and polyester fibers continuously showed stable results in stimulating the parasympathetic nerve activity, increasing the blood circulation, relaxing the muscles and as a secondary effect, improving the quality of sleep and strengthening the immune system. The team called the new invention "platinum harmonized technology" (PHT), based on which they developed their patented V-TEX® Regeneration Fibre.
“In the beginning, we used the technology to make bed sheets that would assist at care facilities,” Dr. Katano explains. “But the production cost was high and therefore, the product itself became far too expensive for care facilities.”
Despite their efforts to promote the product, it wasn’t successful and the trio found themselves caught at a dead end.
From caregiving to Recovery Wear and going global
But just as the business was starting to look grim, in 2009, Venex joined what turned out to be a fateful health and beauty goods fair in Japan.
“We were by chance introduced to the idea that our products could be beneficial in the sports industry,” Dr. Katano recalls. “It was something we hadn’t considered earlier, but began to research right away.”
The company used their original fibre to make men's and women’s sportswear in various colors and designs, calling the new lineup Recovery Wear. With strategic planning, marketing and a continuous effort to boost exposure through publication of academic research papers and participations in expos, the company began growing exponentially.
Venex’ Recovery Wear gradually took off, providing solid data in an increase of parasympathetic activity body temperature. Simply by wearing the clothes, users would report better sleep, lessened exhaustion and increased relaxation, the company explains.
In 2013, Venex’ further won a gold award at the prestigious ISPO in Munich, the leading international trade fair for sporting goods and sports fashion, which secured the company with solid recognition in Europe as well. It was then that Venex launched its subsidiary company in Germany. As a result, today, Venex’ products are gaining popularity in a number of countries, including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Taiwan, China, South Korea, and of course Japan.
“It was never a question of whether we wanted to expand overseas,” Dr. Katano says. “This was our original plan from the beginning and we are more than proud to have found a way to break the negative cycle of exhaustion,” a problem he says is, sadly, universal.
Looking into the future
Nearly 15 years into its launch, today Venex has established itself as a leading regeneration wear maker in the sports industry, though its products are used by much broader audiences. From neck warmers to eye masks and simple room wear, Venex’ product users include regular tired people, like most of us, just as often as popular athletes.
“We have been thrilled to find out that famous athletes in sumo, figure skating, yoga, triathlon and many other sports are using our products because they find them helpful,” Dr. Katano says with a smile, making a point that Venex is not officially sponsoring any athletes as of present.
“But we don’t think that we are the only solution,” he continues modestly, emphasizing that the three good health factors are balanced nutrition, exercising and good rest.
“Nutrition studies and exercising are widely promoted all over the world, but it is essential that people also start trying a variety of ways to help them also rest well — this can be music, traveling, aroma therapy, mental distress and anything else that works for them. We, at Venex, are here to fill in one missing gap in the 'rest' factor."
Following the conversation, it doesn’t come as a surprise when the Venex team introduces their next project: a power nap machine that simultaneously stimulates various senses.
“We have partnered with experts in sound, light and smell to create a power nap machine which people would use during short breaks for a quick recovery,” Dr. Katano says, not hiding his excitement.
The dome-like machine, he explains will assist users with a 20-minute power nap assisted by light, sound and Venex’ Recovery Wear blanket. The machine, which is expected to be released on the market this summer, will most likely be placed at hotel lobbies, lounges and even regular offices.
“We’re so excited,” Dr. Katano says. With prospects for a future where companies own their own power nap machines and encourage their employees to rest, frankly, so are we.
This is the fifth story in Japan Today’s new Japan Business Spotlight series, which brings the spotlight on Japanese domestic companies, from small-scale family-run businesses to now worldwide corporate giants. In this series, we trace the roots of their foundations, we look at the faces behind their stories and the concepts behind their most recent innovations. Our first series introduces seven businesses based in or operating in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Read more articles from our Japan Business Spotlight: Kanagawa:
- Odakyu Electric Railways: Leading all roads to Hakone … and beyond
- Royal Blue Tea: Elevating tea culture, from Japan to the world
- Iwai Sesame Oil: The taste of one family business 160 years in the making
- Misaki Megumi Suisan: Promoting Japan’s ‘maguro’ — not tuna — to the world