Cheering on the other WTO

Tetsunori Koizumi, Director

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an international organization that sets up the rules of international trade among member states, monitors the trade policies and practices of member states for their compliance with the international agreements, and mediates the trade disputes between member states if and when such disputes arise. WTO came into being in 1995 to replace the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), created in 1947, that had been responsible for promoting free trade among nations in the post-World War II world economy by reducing tariffs and removing other restrictive trade practices. The idea of free trade promoted by GATT and WTO has been largely responsible for the phenomenal increase in the volume of international trade not only in goods and services but also in information.

While the World Trade Organization is well known as it is often in the news in today’s world of global capitalism, there is another international organization with the same abbreviation of WTO. Although not as well known as the World Trade Organization, this is the World Toilet Organization, which was founded on November 19, 2001, with the inaugural World Toilet Summit held in Singapore. The World Toilet Organization, or the other WTO, is committed itself to the task of promoting sanitary toilets as it was the unsanitary condition of toilets in the world, especially in the developing part of the world, that was behind the formation of this international organization. With the resolution passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2013, November 19 is now officially recognized as the World Toilet Day to bring the attention of the people all over the world to the importance of keeping sanitary toilets.

Even in the developed part of the world, toilets were not as sanitary as they are today. As a matter of fact, the word gofujyo is one of the polite expressions the Japanese used to refer to their toilets. The word gofuujyo actually consists of two words: go and fujyo. Fujyo is a familiar word for the Japanese who have read the Heart Sutra, or heard it recited, for the expression “fuku fujyo” appears in it, which is usually translated as “neither defiled nor immaculate”. Go, on the other hand, is an honorific word that is used to pay respect to whatever word that comes after it. Thus, gosho, which combines go with sho, the word that means “a place”, is the word the Japanese employ to refer to “the imperial palace”. Gofujyo, with go combined with fujyo, is therefore a polite way of saying “a place that is not immaculate”, suggesting that toilets in Japan used to be regarded as unsanitary places, which is understandable, considering that pit toilets had long been the most common type of toilets until the introduction of water closets in the twentieth century.

The Japanese perception of a toilet as a place that is not immaculate has since been radically changed with the widespread use of water closets. As with other imported products, water closets have gone through revisions and improvements in the hands of Japanese manufacturing firms. With the widespread usage of water closets, especially the type of toilets called “washlets”, Japanese toilets in private homes as well as in public places such as parks, train stations and airports have been turned into clean, even immaculate, places. As a result, the word gofujyo has gone out of circulation among the Japanese, replaced more and more by the word, toilet, which the Japanese condense into toire.

Keeping toilets clean and immaculate is very important to prevent diarrhea and other diseases that are caused by unsanitary toilets. According to WTO—the other WTO, that is—there are still over 1 billion people in the world who practice open defecation, including in such countries as China and India, despite the fact that these countries are now ready to join the selected club of developed nations with their remarkable achievement in economic development in recent decades. As a matter of fact, the practice of open defecation in India, which Mahatma Gandhi lamented some 90 years ago, has become so repugnant to residents and tourists alike that Narendra Modi, who became the prime minister this May, initiated a “Clean India” campaign to make toilets and clean water available to all Indians by 2019, urging all citizens to join him. Needless to say, it takes more than a government-led campaign to realize the goal set by Modi, for India will have to invest heavily in building the necessary infrastructure for sewage treatment, not to mention that for securing clean water supply and garbage disposal. But Modi’s “Clean India” campaign is a good start if it helps to cultivate awareness among the Indians about the need to have a clean living environment for sustainable development. It would be indeed a real accomplishment for the Indians when India, the country that gave us the Heart Sutra, can claim on the World Toilet Day in 2019 that their toilets are clean and sanitary, if not totally immaculate.