Yukiko Suzuki: Through a Japanese lens

Joint winner of  the 2017 Trinity College Dublin and developmenteducation.ie development issues blog series, Yukiko Suzuki explores development through a Japanese lens.

When discussing development, it is most often measured by a country’s economic growth or through it’s performance based on the Human Development Index (HDI). Although developing countries have seen it as a global issue, most people living in developed countries might not often consider why ‘development’  matters so much.

Since I have grown up in Japan, where we are economically and technologically very highly developed, living in a developing country appears to be quite stark, by comparison. I can see a basic gap between people in developing countries and developed countries’ lives. Here, from a Japanese point of view, I would like to introduce two points that I think illustrate some differences between developed and developing countries.

Japanese demand for Washlets*

*This is a Washlet (Multifunction toilet (10th June 2012) Kambayashi (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr)

If you have ever travelled to Japan you would have been surprised by how Japanese toilets have evolved. If you have not, let me explain. Many Japanese public toilets are equipped with heated seats, automatic flush, bidet and noise generator. I must admit that there’s a certain Japanese genius in imagination that seeks a high quality of life in the bathroom.

The reason I mention our toilets is because it directly relates to a lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation; an important issue in many developing countries. Poor sanitation is one of the world’s biggest killers: it hits women, children, old and sick people hardest. Further, according to Unicef, poor water and sanitation result in economic losses estimated at £153 billion annually in developing countries, or 1.5% of their GDP. India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tanzania and Kenya are the highest-ranking countries in which people do not have access to proper, sanitary toilets and clean water.

In this sense, toilets in Japan may be too luxurious as compared to people in developing countries who experience a lack of access to proper sanitation and clean water on a daily basis. Once you have used Japanese toilets, on the other hand, you won’t find finer toilets anywhere else in the world.

24-hour convenience stores in your neighbourhood

You can see many convenience stores in Japan, and amazingly most of them are open 24/7. The variety of foods, drinks, sweets, magazines and daily necessaries can be obtained at a low price. For instance, if you buy a sandwiche in Dublin, it will cost on average at least €4. On the other hand, sandwiches cost only €2 in Japan. Further, if you need to use the toilet on your way home and it’s after 10 p.m., and of course most buildings and offices are closed, you can just drop in to a convenience store and there’s a bathroom you can use for free. Having convenience stores means ‘everything you need can be found in convenience stores in your neighborhood.’

On this point, it is easy to assume that there are no 24/7 convenience stores in developing countries. On the other hand, demand for 24/7 convenience stores would never decrease in Japan as there are so many people working until very late in the day to get food and drinks, and many college students go out and buy sweets and alcohol for their all-night parties from midnight.

In terms of food security, Japanese people pop into nearby convenience stores whenever they feel hungry or thirsty. At the same time, about 800 million people around the world remain chronically undernourished, most of whom live in countries across Africa. Such large numbers of people cannot get food even if they are starving, and suffering from extreme malnutrition.

When considering infrastructure in developing countries, in this context, stores shouldn’t open for 24/7 as it wouldn’t be profitable. In addition, there are many security issues raised if young women were to walk home at midnight, which would be considered too dangerous in many poorer countries.

‘Development’ makes our lifestyle much easier and more convenient, but only if you have access to those resources and technologies. Developed countries like Japan are eager to develop new technologies for further innovation, but they seem to be only expanding the gap between ‘developed’ and developing’ countries.

For people living in developing countries, washlet toilets and 24/7 convenience stores may not be necessary but access to proper sanitation and secure food sources for their basic needs (at a minimum) and livelihoods certainly is.