As the nation with the third largest economy in the world, it is easy to assume that poverty in Japan does not exist. However, one in six Japanese people is living in relative poverty. Many believe this is due to incomes dropping and the number of single-mother households increasing, which often consists of low-paying and sporadic employment. In 2014, child poverty rates in Japan hit a record high. Poverty within the country needs to be addressed, even if it’s less extreme than in other areas.
In early 2017, the number of children living in poverty in Japan was estimated to be around 3.5 million. With such numbers rising, a children’s cafeteria named Kawaguchi was created in Tokyo as a place for children to socialize and have what is often times their only proper meal of the day. Kawaguchi survives strictly on cash donations from local businesses, and the food is donated by farmers and some participating families. There are around 50 children who eat there monthly, and about a third of them come from struggling single-parent households.
Like Kawaguchi, hundreds of similar cafeterias have been created throughout Japan to help with poverty issues. Although a law was passed in 2013 in regards to child poverty, sources say programs helping these children lack funding and support.
A proven difficulty in Japan is taking the poverty issue seriously, and the realities of poverty are often hidden for fear of being seen as disadvantaged. With social expectations in Japan, families often make extreme efforts to get their children everything they need to participate in expensive school activities and ensure they look well dressed. In doing this, the families often have to cut down on food.
Finding Children in Need
In addition to cafeterias for children, Japanese nonprofits have created interest-free loans for students who need extra help. An organization called The Nippon Foundation opened a facility where up to 20 children at an elementary age can go between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. to relax, study and have a hot meal. The foundation plans to expand to allow 100 children by 2020.
Because poverty in Japan proves to be somewhat of a taboo, The Nippon Foundation understands that people may not ask for help, even when they desperately need it. So, the foundation focuses a lot of its efforts on outreach and finding children who need this kind of help.
With Japan being such a successful and economically advanced nation, poverty within its boundaries is often overlooked and misunderstood. Because of this, it is essential to understand that aid projects need to be put in place, just like in other struggling countries. Japan is a prime example that poverty can exist in wealthy countries. Assistance programs like children cafeterias and nonprofits not only help alleviate poverty in Japan, but they also spread the message that more needs to be done to help these people, especially children, who are living in poverty.
– McCall Robison