As a drive to support children with challenging family or economic backgrounds, an increasing number of soup kitchens for children have been set up in Japan. They offer the children in need, along with nutritious meals, place where they can come and relax.
A vegetable shop in Ota-ku, Tokyo, called Kimagure Yaoya Dandan (Whimsy vegetable shop Dandan), opened the first restaurant for needy children in Japan in 2012. Located in the same building with the vegetable shop, the restaurant opens every Thursday.
One day, the owner of the vegetable shop and the restaurant, Hiroko Kondo, 56, heard from one school teacher that some children he knew live on meals provided at school and one banana a day. So shocked she was that she decided to set up a restaurant to provide the children in need for food assistance with a place to come and eat properly unaccompanied by any adults. A meal costs JPY300 for a child and JPY500 for an adult. For those who can’t pay the cost for some reason, she acts flexibly.
Soon after the opening of the soup kitchen (5:30pm), a boy in his first year of junior high school and his young sister in the fifth year of primarily school appeared. They come to the restaurant every week while they wait for their mother to come home late from work. “I’m looking forward to Thursdays and having dinner with many others,” the boy said with a smile.
Yoshie Kaneko, 62, a freelance announcer, opens Nerima Kodomo Shokudo (Nerima Kids Restaurant) twice a month in Nerima-ku, Tokyo. The restaurant regularly has 50 customers a day, mostly children, and the room is always full of laughter of the young customers and volunteer workers. A 46-year-old housewife was having dinner with her elementary school daughter. “I came here for the first time today but I thought this will be a good place for my daughter to develop her socializing skills,” she said.
According to the survey by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, in 2012, one out of six children live in poverty, a growing number of children eat dinner alone, and there are many children who are in need for food assistance.
To help the needy children nationwide, more and more restaurants for children are set up: In Tokyo and its surrounding area, there are approximately 30 kids’ restaurants. What’s more, many of them are open to local residents, thanks to a growing tendency for communities to assist and watch children grow, never letting them feel isolated.
“Everyone is welcome. Children with difficulties have dinner with many others. That’s what this place is for,” Kondo says. Kaneko also says, “I want to let many more needy children know about this place. Then they can come and spend time with other people.”