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Updated:February 6, 2019


Governor's Column (February 2019)

Children's Cafeterias

Saitama Prefecture recently featured in the news following the announcement that three nationwide chain convenience stores within the prefecture will join the "children's cafeteria" initiative. The initiative was born from the warm hearts of caring adults and aims to provide food to children who, otherwise, may not have access to three proper meals a day. Establishments offering this service within the prefecture have been steadily increasing: growing from 76 to 123 cafeterias between August 2017 and August 2018.

Currently, the child poverty ratio in Japan is higher than average amongst OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) member countries, with 1 in 7 children living in a state of poverty. Saitama Prefecture, however, is a pioneer amongst the other prefectures in Japan, in terms of public assistance programs for those in need. In the past, issues such as the unlawful receipt of public assistance have been raised by the media as major problems. But the workers of our prefecture have pointed out the real problem: that 25% of children from public assistance recipient-households reach adulthood only to require financial assistance themselves, falling prey to an endless cycle of chain-reaction poverty. Furthermore, after careful analysis, one of the main reasons for this was found to be the low percentage of students advancing to senior high school.

In response to this, Saitama Prefecture introduced an initiative to provide children who are members of public assistance-recipient households with places to study, as a means of assisting students to advance to senior high school. This initiative gained nationwide recognition and subsequently led to the development of the Public Assistance Act, which is now implemented at a national level. In 2009, prior to the implementation of the initiative, the percentage of junior high school students advancing to senior high school in Saitama Prefecture was 86.9%. This percentage has since increased 11.3 percent, to 98.2% in 2017, and is now statistically on par with the advancement rate for children from households not in receipt of public assistance.

At the same time, the "children's cafeteria" initiative, which started as a small movement by dedicated volunteers, is on its way to developing and expanding in various ways. On their way home from school, children visit the cafeteria to learn and play, and adults participate as well. A former trade company worker may give a talk about a topic such as 'the world,' while a former pilot chooses to share his experiences with the children. Children's cafeterias don't just provide food, rather, the cafeterias represent an ever-expanding network of participants who supply ingredients, make the food, and help out in other ways. These cafeterias aren't merely somewhere where children can feel like they belong. I believe they have the potential to help rebuild the important bonds and sense of community that our society seems to be increasingly lacking. Now, convenience store chains are also beginning to take part and I hope that, as a result of the initiative's continued development and expansion, an invaluable, new platform that supports the foundations of our local community will be born.

For those who would like support the "children's cafeteria" initiative:
(Saitama Prefectural Government, Department of Welfare, Managing Director of Planning)

Kiyoshi Ueda
Kiyoshi Ueda