Tough economic times can and do happen everywhere in the world. Even in wealthy, developed countries like Japan, some folks struggle every day to make ends meet. Sometimes, those people are families with young children.

Childhood hunger is a worldwide problem, and while no one deserves to go hungry, it is an especially sad situation for children. For one thing, they can’t really do anything to help better their situation, and secondly, they need the food and nutrition to help their bodies continue to grow properly. In Japan, approximately 16 percent of two-parent families are financially unable to provide enough food for their children, and that number jumps to 32 percent for single-parent households, according to a 2012 survey. But there are some who refuse to stand by doing nothing and are dedicating themselves to feeding the hungry children in Japan.

Across the country, kodomo shokudo, literally “kids cafeterias,” are being established by citizens hoping to help fill the empty bellies of undernourished children in their area. The kodomo shokudo initiative began in 2012, with the efforts of a fruit and vegetable shop in Tokyo’s Ota Ward, and has since started spreading nationwide.

Kurume Kodomo Shokudo opened this past August in Fukuoka Prefecture, utilizing the event space of a shopping street in Kurume City. Open on the last Sunday of every month, Kurume Kodomo Shokudo offers a hearty menu of curry and rice, a favorite comfort food of many Japanese children that can be packed full of healthful vegetables. The price per child is 300 yen (US$2.44) for an all-you-can-eat meal, and if the child colors a picture, they also receive a 100-yen discount.

When the manager of the operation, Daisuke Kawano (age 38), first heard about the kodomo shokudo movement on the news he remembered his own childhood, when the gas and electricity in his home had been turned off and there was hardly enough food on the table.

“There are a great number of children who go hungry. It can’t be ignored,” Kawano states. An education official from Fukuoka also adds “There are many elementary and junior high kids who depend on school lunches, who come back from summer break looking very thin.”


Image: Facebook/ Kurume Kodomo Shokudou

Kawano runs the operation with donations and vegetables from supporters, and any lacking funds he makes up with money from his own pocket.

In the center of Nagasaki City is another similar operation called Yume Cafe…Himawari, built from a remodeled udon noodle shop. Since November of last year, it has been open every Thursday evening from 6:30 to 9, offering free, unlimited curry and rice to its young customers. For many of these kids, it’s their first and only meal of the day. 68-year-old Kenzo Kawai, who runs the establishment with his own money, also offers consultations for the children, as well as a study group.

“I want these kids to have dreams and goals, despite their mountain of troubles,” Kawai remarks. “I want to create a place to connect with these kids, where they can get the support they need.”

Back in Fukuoka, members taking part in dietary education activities at the Itazuke North Community Center are preparing to open their own kodomo shokudo starting November 28, with plans to offer 200-yen meals ($1.62) to children on the fourth Saturday of every month.


Image: Street Project homepage

Since April of last year, the institute Street Project has been tackling the problem of hungry youth in Fukuoka City, offering free meals to teens and young adults from ages 15 to 25. The group uses donations, as well as money earned from selling used books, to feed the current 31 youths in the program.

The chairman of the project, Keiko Tsuboi, says of Street Project: “Many of the kids who come here deal with difficult issues like abuse, but if we don’t first give them some relief and get some food in their stomachs, we can’t get them to talk about their problems. We don’t intend to solve the problems with food; we want to support them for the long run from all different angles.”

There need to be more selfless, dedicated people like Kawano, Kawai, and Tsuboi stepping up to face the issues of childhood hunger in Japan, as well as the rest of the world. If you’re interested in helping out the organizations above, you can contact them via their homepages, as listed below.

Related: Kurume Kodomo Shokudo, Yume Cafe…Himawari, Street Support
Source: Yahoo!Japan News
Top image: Facebook/ Kurume Kodomo Shokudou