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Changing the future of the world through toilets

The Mainichi Shimbun column titled "Minna no Hiroba," which features readers' submissions, is interesting. It often makes me realize and think about things. The other day I learned from a submission from Neori Yasumaru, a high school student from Tokyo's Nerima Ward.

    Ms. Yasumaru wrote that 2.3 billion people in the world don't have access to a sanitary toilet, and that as a result, women who have no option but to go outdoors are sometimes attacked. Additionally, there are children who don't go to school because the schools don't have toilets.

    By global standards, our toilet situation here in Japan is close to a miracle.

    Recently, Japanese airlines have introduced toilets with warm-water bidets on international routes. But in some of the places where their planes land, the situation is totally different. Even in developed countries, it can be difficult to find a public toilet, and when you do finally find one it's not uncommon for the seat to be missing, leaving you at a loss.

    If you go to a developing country, it's a whole new concept. As Ms. Yasumaru wrote, a village's toilet might simply be a single hole in the ground.

    Lixil Corp., a Japanese manufacturer of home goods, is supporting the spread of toilets in developing countries. To conserve precious water, it has increased the number of water-saving toilets that need only 1 liter per flush, and on city fringes, it has brought in "green toilets" that don't use water, instead converting human waste into fertilizer.

    Lixil employee Yu Yamakami, who is stationed in Kenya, says she became aware of her "love of toilets" when she was in elementary school. She entered the company (formerly Inax Corp.) 12 years ago, and after learning about the world toilet situation, asked to be moved to the section where she is now, thinking, "Who will do this besides me?"

    In September, Yamakami helped create a green toilet in a school located in a local slum district. Female students, especially, were delighted. The secret of its popularity is a mirror that Yamakami and others decided to install.

    Akane Odake, an office head at Lixil overseeing support projects, showed me a photo, saying the fixture was so popular that children weren't coming back to the classroom. A girl is pictured in front of the mirror, smiling shyly.

    If toilets change from dirty, scary places to fun places where laughter can be heard, the future of that country will change. That's because removing the obstacle of not being able to go to school because there is no toilet -- something unthinkable in Japan -- will increase opportunities for education, which should open up new possibilities.

    Though people tend to hold back from talking about toilets, lavatories have the power to influence society. The people who know this, in Odake's words, are all "people with a passion who will lose track of time discussing toilet issues." It's important to have food and water. But what comes next? I'd like to ponder this toilet issue further. (By Hideaki Nakamura, Editorial Writer)

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