Shionogi & Co., Ltd. — April 5, 2021
Beginning in April of 2020, Shionogi Healthcare (a member of Shionogi Group) launched an initiative to make its products more accessible to a variety of consumers, particularly those with vision impairments or who would otherwise have difficulty reading the text printed on the packaging. As part of this initiative, Shionogi Healthcare has redesigned the packaging of 14 products to incorporate a variety of accessibility-oriented improvements, such as an easy-open front-facing flap and pictographic representations of the indications. The packaging also features Accessible Code, a QR–code–based system that delivers product information and instructions as both voice and text in any of 7 different languages. With the addition of Portuguese and Vietnamese in April 2021, that information is now available in the official languages of the top five countries represented by foreign residents in Japan. Shionogi is the first healthcare company to include Accessible Code on the packaging of its pharmaceutical products, and the first to include multilingual information in such a wide variety of languages without the use of machine translation.

Graphic illustrating the location of the QR code on the box and the QR Translator webpage displayed in Vietnamese
(To see the product information on your own device, scan the QR code above.)

This initiative toward greater accessibility was undertaken by Shionogi in response to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) announced by the United Nations in 2015 and reflects Shionogi’s individual goal of “providing dependable, quality healthcare to all.” The packaging design changes were the result of three years of research and were conceived to meet the specific needs of several demographics, beginning with senior and elderly residents of the country. According to a white paper published by the cabinet office, the rising average age of the Japanese population is expected to lead to an increase in healthcare costs1 , and the Japanese government is seeking to support self-medication through individual purchase of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs rather than costly prescriptions. The changes implemented by Shionogi are intended to make OTC drugs more accessible for seniors, who may have difficulty opening the packaging or reading the drug information.

Bar graph showing the increasing percentage of the Japanese population that is 65 years of age or older

Additionally, according to poll data collected by Shionogi, more than 70% of individuals with visual impairments stated that when purchasing OTC medication, they were “unable to locate the desired medicine without assistance from a shopkeeper,” and over 60% reported that they were unable to determine the correct dosage or instructions for use. Shionogi also collected information from foreign residents, who expressed difficulty when determining which drugs to choose or getting help from a shopkeeper. Many of the changes that Shionogi has made to their product packaging address these concerns. To make selecting the appropriate medicine easier regardless of language, pictographic representations of their medicines’ indications (such as headache, fever, or menstrual pain) are included on the front of the packaging.

Front of New Sedes box showing icons representing headache, fever, and menstrual cramps

To make the product more accessible to people who are blind or have impaired vision, as well as those who might otherwise have difficulty reading the printed information, Shionogi Healthcare has added Accessible Code to the packaging of their products. Accessible Code, a QR code containing product information, is printed underneath each box’s flap, as well as on the back of the package. When scanned with a smartphone or other compatible device, the QR code will display information such as the product name, dosage, and instructions for use, which can also be read aloud automatically using text-to-speech. This information is also automatically displayed in the language of the user’s smartphone. As an additional ease-of-use measure, the area on which the code is printed is debossed to ensure that it can be quickly and easily located by simply running one’s fingers across the surface of the box.

Three images illustrating the front-facing flap, dosage information, and debossed QR code

Accessible Code was developed over the course of two years by Export Japan, a web marketing and content production company, with the assistance of the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). In developing the technology, careful testing was performed to establish the appropriate size, locations, and print specifications to ensure that the code can easily be located and read by someone who is blind. Export Japan also partnered with Kobe Lighthouse, a support and advocacy group for people with visual impairments, in developing VIP Code Reader, a QR-code-reading app designed to be used by people with visual impairments. The information provided by Accessible Code can easily be updated, revised, or changed, making it a flexible, long-term solution to the problem of information accessibility. It has been successfully implemented in a variety of settings, including on public signage and vending machines, to provide multilingual information with a compact physical footprint.

About Shionogi Healthcare
Founded in January 2016 as a member of Shionogi Group, Shionogi Healthcare continually strives to provide the highest-quality healthcare and promote healthy living for everyone. Through cooperation with multiple partner companies and participation in a variety of projects and initiatives, Shionogi Healthcare aims to offer the best in healthcare goods, services, and information.

About Export Japan
Founded in Osaka in April 2000, Export Japan is a web marketing firm that specializes in inbound tourism and multilingual content creation. Its diverse staff of a few dozen is made up of talented individuals from Japan, America, France, Poland China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Brazil, and Bangladesh, and the company’s goals are best described by its motto: “Contributing to intercultural relations through internet business.” Some of Export Japan’s more noteworthy clients include the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and, an English-language travel site that receives millions of visitors each month.

For Media and Press:

Export Japan, Inc.
Osaka Tel:06-6208-0161 (Tae Fukushima)
Tokyo Tel:03-6214-5881 (Kinga Wozniak)

Taiyo Araki, Natsushi Yamada

1 Cabinet Office, Annual Report on the Ageing Society, 2019