Kodomo shokudo cafeterias mushrooming across Japan

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe number of kodomo shokudo cafeterias that provide free or cheap meals to local children increased to 3,718 across Japan as of May, a 60 percent jump from a previous survey, according to a nonprofit organization that surveyed the facilities.

The cafeterias, which are operated by citizen groups, restaurants and other entities, were estimated to have served meals to a combined 1.6 million people.

The Tokyo-based Musubie, a nonprofit organization supporting kodomo shokudo nationwide, released the survey findings on June 26.

There is no legal definition of a kodomo shokudo, and how often these cafeterias open and how they are run is left to individual operators. In recent times, these facilities have increasingly become places for local children to hang out, rather than just for families struggling to get by.

Musubie surveyed the cafeterias through local governments and support organizations between June 2018 and May this year. Compared with the previous survey conducted between January and March 2018, the number of kodomo shokudo increased by about 1,400 across the nation, with the figure rising in every prefecture except Akita.

According to the survey, these facilities tend to be concentrated in urban areas. Tokyo had the most kodomo shokudo (488) of any prefecture, followed by Osaka (336) and Kanagawa (253). Nagasaki Prefecture recorded the highest rate of increase, with its number surging from seven to 23 in the latest survey. Akita Prefecture had the fewest of any prefecture with just 11 — the same as the previous survey.

Musubie said there would ideally be at least one kodomo shokudo in each elementary school district. However, the survey revealed there was one cafeteria for every six districts.

“Administrative support will be essential for boosting the number of kodomo shokudo even further,” Makoto Yuasa, chief director of the NPO and a project professor at the University of Tokyo, said at a press conference in Tokyo.

“We need to make sure local residents are fully aware of the role these facilities play,” Yuasa said.

Taking care against allergies

While the number of kodomo shokudo steadily grows across Japan, their operators are facing a slew of challenges, including preventing food poisoning, taking precautions against allergies and collecting money to cover their costs.

At the Nagominoie Mizue local interaction hub in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, a social welfare corporation operates a kodomo shokudo that provides dinner once a month. On the evening of June 20, about 30 people came to the facility for a meal featuring noppei-jiru soup, a Niigata Prefecture specialty containing various vegetables. The children looked happy as they ate this meal. “Eating with everyone makes it taste better,” one child said.

The meal cost ¥100 for children and ¥300 for adults. The ward government and a social welfare council shoulder the kodomo shokudo’s operating costs, as well as expenses including insurance for eventualities such as a food poisoning outbreak or a child getting injured. The 49-year-old mother of a sixth-grade boy who ate at the facility said, “I can leave him here without worrying about anything.”

The operator of the kodomo shokudo in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, confirms with all first-time visitors — parents and children — whether they have food allergies and records this information on their user card. The day’s menu and all ingredients used in these dishes are listed and displayed at the venue, and the facility takes utmost care to prevent cases of food poisoning, such as by having its members regularly attend food hygiene courses held by public health centers.

According to Musubie, volunteers run kodomo shokudo, and many of these organizations are struggling to collect enough funds.

The head of one such organization in western Japan admitted: “Our volunteers are elderly and we don’t have enough people helping out. We pay for many things out of our own pocket, such as ingredients, travel expenses and providing a venue, so I don’t know if we can continue operating.”

In response to this situation, local governments are increasingly subsidizing the operating costs of these facilities. According to the Cabinet Office, the Tokyo metropolitan government, Shiga prefectural government, Kitakyushu city government and the government of Kiyosu, Aichi Prefecture, were among those that subsidized food costs and insurance premiums in fiscal 2018.

An official of the Osaka city government, which started fully subsidizing the insurance costs of kodomo shokudo from April, said, “As more people use kodomo shokudo, it’s urgent that we ensure the quality of these facilities.”Speech

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