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Private-initiative soup kitchens spring up to deal with child poverty

10 Comments
By Michael Hoffman

The 21st century is rich in unkept promises. Terrorism and war mock peace. Global warming taints progress. Then there’s child poverty. When it rises in the richest countries, the conclusion seems inescapable that contemporary prosperity is based on false if not evil premises.

In Japan, one child in six is said to grow up in poverty. That’s about average for developed countries today, though markedly higher than Japan’s one child in nine in 1985.

It’s unacceptable, and people are doing something about it, says Spa (May 17). Kodomo shokudo (kids’ cafeterias) are springing up all over the country. In 2016, 319 had been counted nationwide; in 2021, 6,007 – a 20-fold increase.

Their founders and operators are typically individuals stirred by compassion. Many are first-time activists. Hiroshi Kondo is one. A grocer by trade, he ran his shop, a converted pub, in Tokyo’s Ota Ward, where a neighborhood kid got him thinking.

This was in 2010. He didn’t really know the boy, but something about him seemed to call out for help. What to do? How to approach him? Was the child hungry? Should he offer him food? He’d read of children who ate nothing but a banana or two between breakfast and dinner. Suppose, Kondo thought, he expanded his shop into a place where children at loose ends could come, get a meal, maybe get help with homework too, if that’s what was needed, or with social problems, if any.

He mulled it over. Two years passed. Then, it seems, the boy was taken from his family and placed in a children’s home. Kondo had lost his chance. He kicked himself – and got busy.

He raised funds, renovated his premises, and began offering full lunches for 300 yen. Kids came; grown-ups too. In 2015 he lowered the price to 100 yen. Soon he was serving 40-50 kids a day, infants to senior high school students. When COVID-19 struck, he turned to home delivery.

He takes pride in the children who have thriven, as he sees it, under his care. One child he tells Spa of had a disability of some sort; his mother suffered from heart disease. The mother’s condition improved; she now works for him as a volunteer. The child grew up and joined his paid staff. These are lives that could have gone bad without Kondo’s helping hand.

Yasuko Kawabe of Osaka tells a similar story. She set up her Nishinari Child Care Center around the same time as Kondo was getting his establishment going. She’d worked in a school and knew of preteen children who roamed the streets all night. For them, clearly, home was no shelter and school no education. They needed a place to go. One boy she came to know went about brandishing a metal baseball bat, muttering, “I’ll kill them all!” His mother had gone off with a boyfriend, leaving the child in the care of a teenage girl. Tentatively, Kawabe approached him, was rebuffed, persisted and found an opening. The boy said, “Do you understand how I feel?” “No,” said Kawabe, “but I’ll try.”

The center she built then has helped some 7,000 kids over the years. The boy with the bat turned to soccer and eventually turned pro. He’s one of her supporters today.

It’s not all roses. The rapid proliferation of kids’ cafeterias has a dark side, Spa reports. Well-intentioned but ill-prepared founders flee and leave their messes behind. Not all activist intentions are good. Fraudsters and scammers breed here too, their charities fronts for theft of donations or  private information. Child abuse allegations were raised in 2019 against a cafeteria in Kanagawa Prefecture. In  2020 a female volunteer at a Tokyo cafeteria complained of sexual harassment.

Kawabe has a vision. It’s not enough, she says, to give kids food, play space and help with homework. If their families are unhappy, they too will be unhappy. Why are families unhappy? Because they’re isolated, she reasons. There’s no community. It’s the community she hopes to build. Let the community be an extended family, and the family a mini-community. With 20 million yen raised via crowdfunding, she has her work cut out for her and, perhaps, the means to accomplish it.

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

10 Comments
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That’s about average for developed countries today, though markedly higher than Japan’s one child in nine in 1985.

Japan also had a wage gap between new hires and top execs in 1985 that was about a tenth of that in the US.

That has also changed and CEO and rentier gains have exploded in line with other G7 countries to create the wealth pyramid seen today.

Take from workers and children and give to CEOs, that is the history of the last 30 years of the LDP/Japan Inc.

Maybe soup kitchens and hungry children was what former PM Abe had in mind with his "Beautiful Japan" and 3 arrows policies?

Looks to be the same with Kishida's "New Capitalism" too.

3 ( +15 / -12 )

In Japan, one child in six is said to grow up in poverty. That’s about average for developed countries today, though markedly higher than Japan’s one child in nine in 1985.

I remember being so impressed in the 70s and 80s with the huge middle and even lower middle classes that I saw here in Japan. The gap between the top and bottom wasn't so big. Back in the States, it was living large or starving dirty and struggling.

It's been one of my biggest disappointments to see Japan head in the cut-throat capitalistic direction. It used to be a more socialistic and supportive economic model.

Soup kitchens for kids in the world's third largest economy is a shame.

10 ( +16 / -6 )

with all those kids going hungry and yet the LDP scum STILL legally DINE OUT at expensive restaurants PAID FOR BY TAXPAYERS. And then they want to claim that they love Japan and want to protect it. And the public believes and supports them. Go figure.

As a sign of goodwill, how about the politicians give up their privilege of dining out at our expense. Those leeches already make ridiculous amounts of money. They can afford to dine out at their own expense.

Take from workers and children and give to CEOs, that is the history of the last 30 years of the LDP/Japan Inc.

It's been one of my biggest disappointments to see Japan head in the cut-throat capitalistic direction. It used to be a more socialistic and supportive economic model.

So true! Even 20 years ago, the income gap was not as bad as it is today. Everyone still went out and spent money in bars and restaurants, but we still managed to live well and even save money. The situation today is dire.

Maybe soup kitchens and hungry children was what former PM Abe had in mind with his "Beautiful Japan" and 3 arrows policies?

Looks to be the same with Kishida's "New Capitalism" too.

Exactly!

-4 ( +6 / -10 )

Aly RustomToday  08:43 am JST

with all those kids going hungry and yet the LDP scum STILL legally DINE OUT at expensive restaurants PAID FOR BY TAXPAYERS. etc ad infinitum............................

Yes, shameful indeed.

Tell me, what are you contributing to help the people in need?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

how about the politicians give up their privilege of dining out at our expense

I ‘admire’ those senseless proposals. Just think about it for a minute or two. They can set their income in parliament votings and decisions and all of it is then paid by the taxpayers, like in all democracies. Now tell me where the difference is, if they go out dining from that money just the way they do it like now, or if they instead raise their self-set income by the amount of restaurant costs and then pay it officially and separately and with printed receipts, but now from their income, that has been increased by the restaurant costs. A little hint, there’s no difference at the end, and again the taxpayers pay everything and minimum the same as before of course (in fact even more, because you now even have more bureaucracy efforts and costs to check and manage all those payments and receipts). You see, that will turn out an own goal, so to say.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I remember having food drives in elementary school a couple of times during the year. Students would bring in what they could - usually canned goods - and it was sent out to the less fortunate in the area. This was a working class area in south Atlanta, so there were quite a few people who needed help. I find it odd that it doesn't happen here - only in times of disaster. I brought it up at a PTA meeting but the majority opinion was that people receiving the donations would be too embarrassed, so we should not do it.

Tell me, what are you contributing to help the people in need?

Don't know if this will get past the moderators, but I regularly donate to Good Neighbors Japan and the local Salvation Army here in Okayama. How about you?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Kishida has got tons of money to "lend" to Ukraine, but the founders and operators of these kid's cafeterias have to get by on much less. Kishida has got his priorities wrong.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@Speed Its better to make LIGHT OF A PROBLEM than to let it stay in the dark. This is part of the problem many kids have been going hungry but no one wanted to acknowledge it or talk about it because of politics or personal shame. NO MATTER HOW LARGE A COUNTRY'S economy is you are going to find the super rich, and the super poor. There is no shame when it comes to feeding the children or providing Soup kitchens for anyone!

In Japan, one child in six is said to grow up in poverty. That’s about average for developed countries today, though markedly higher than Japan’s one child in nine in 1985.

I remember being so impressed in the 70s and 80s with the huge middle and even lower middle classes that I saw here in Japan. The gap between the top and bottom wasn't so big. Back in the States, it was living large or starving dirty and struggling.

It's been one of my biggest disappointments to see Japan head in the cut-throat capitalistic direction. It used to be a more socialistic and supportive economic model.

Soup kitchens for kids in the world's third largest economy is a shame.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Particulars assuming responsibilities that the government should be fulfilling means a very serious problem is there, and as described this can help, but also cause extra problems that be much easier to prevent with a proper system to provide this necessary service. Children being raised in poverty should not mean they have to be hungry all day.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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