Despite boasting a reputation as the third-largest economy in the world, Japan has a poverty rate of 15% that continues to worsen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Japan’s hunger crisis has notably risen because efforts to provide consistent meals to children stopped after schools closed. The nation has enough rice and resources to feed its citizens. However, organizations and communities urge the government to take action in acknowledging the lack of infrastructure around federally-mandated food security.
The Role of Kodomo Shokudo
Nonprofit organizations and communities have provided food welfare in Japan through Kodomo Shokudo. Kodomo Shokudo is a series of programs that provide students with a space to eat and socialize. Hiroko Kondo is a restaurant owner who coined the term. She kickstarted the movement when she heard that a student only had one banana to eat for one week. Kondo established the first Kodomo Shokudo so young adolescents could eat affordably. As a result, a network of restaurants and community members participated in helping eliminate Japan’s hunger crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted Kodomo Shokudo. There has been a 33% increase in people who rely on food pantries and services. Furthermore, a survey revealed that half of the people had concerns about exposing themselves to the virus at these eating spaces. As a result, many locations and vendors have recoursed alternative solutions such as donating bento boxes. Moreover, some organizations are working towards community-based solutions to simultaneously improve food distribution and aid struggling businesses.
How the Government Could Help
The Japanese government has struggled to distribute food for a long time. Japan holds an emergency supply of rice to prepare itself for potential famines. These reserves currently hold a million tons. Furthermore, it has assisted Kodomo Shokudo vendors in the past. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) set a precedent that rice handouts for students receive categorization as food education. However, welfare efforts are strictly dissociated from it. Yet, the demand for food handouts has doubled within the past year. As such, recent challenges suggest the government should implement radical changes.
The government continues to practice extreme budgetary caution. The nation allowed charities to take a limited amount of cooked rice at the beginning of the pandemic. It was careful to eliminate any chances of scheming the system and distributed 10 tons of rice. Additionally, food banks are frustrated with the slow-moving bureaucracy of feeding the hungry and continue to lobby for more generous rations.
The government could resolve Japan’s hunger crisis. However, the government must find it economically and politically beneficial. Fortunately, there are potential avenues to improve government assistance, such as nonprofit organizations and Kodomo Shokudo. Although the food crisis in Japan remains largely unrecognized, the need for improved general governmental welfare has not gone unnoticed. Only 40 food pantries exist in Tokyo to support 14 million residents. In addition, the pandemic has eroded the prospects of economic security. Furthermore, unemployment rates are steadily rising. Addressing Japan’s hunger crisis is the first step in alleviating poverty within the nation.
– Danielle Han