poverty in Japan

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.


Children’s Cafeterias

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

Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Japan
The media covers news regarding poverty in developing countries, but rarely does one see media coverage of poverty in a first-world country like Japan.

First-world countries are defined by their developed infrastructures, capitalist economies and mass industrialization. Because it is a first-world country, there is an assumption that the level of poverty in Japan would be relatively low, yet this is not the case.

In fact, in 2014 the Japanese government found that the relative poverty rate (those who live on less than half of the national median income) was 16 percent of the total population of Japan. According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), the national median income of Japan is around ¥2.75 million, which converts to $27,323.

The majority of people who fall in that 16 percent do not have permanent employment contracts, instead relying on irregular work at construction sites or manufacturing production lines. So while unemployment in Japan falls below 4 percent, irregular and part-time workers (who fall in the relative poverty rate category) comprise around 40 percent of the Japanese workforce.

Another hidden hardship for the country is the amount of child poverty in Japan.

One in six children lives in poverty in a dual-parent family; one in two children live in poverty in Japan with a single parent.

A large contributing factor to child poverty in Japan is the cost of education. Parents living on less than ¥3mil a year struggle to afford the ¥200,000 a year required for their child to attend public high school full time in addition to rent, utilities, food, clothing and other miscellaneous expenses.

Inability to get the education they deserve deprives the Japanese workforce of the skilled laborers necessary to keep the economy thriving.

Community centers, such as the one established in Saitama by the Saitama Youth Support Net, a nonprofit organization run by university student volunteers, help combat the problem of child poverty in Japan by offering free tutoring services to financially strapped families who cannot afford expensive schools or private tutors for their children.

Other anti-child-poverty advocates have created a petition on for a state-backed scholarship program for poor families; as of June 2016, it had garnered over 5,000 supporters.

Hopefully, more progress will be made to help make education more accessible to all children in Japan in the future.

Bayley McComb

Photo: Flickr