Which is your impression of Japan?
- Advanced technology
- Culture (Traditional, pop, and food)
- Friendly and reliable people
- Poverty, hunger, homeless
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan reported that the top two common images of Japan from foreigners are “a country with great tradition and culture” and “a country with a strong economy and advanced technology”. Everyone knows words like “sushi”, and Japan draws more global attention as the host of the next Olympics.
As you can see from this, many people might think that Japan has many attractive things and nobody there suffers from hunger. Unfortunately, the reality is different. There are people who are homeless, jobless, and money-less. In 2012, 16.1% of families in Japan are under the poverty line, half of the median equivalent of disposable income, and 16.3% of children who are under 18 years old and live with their family are in poverty. From a report by the OECD, Japan has the sixth-worst poverty rate of the entire population among countries joining the OECD. On the other hand, 17-23 million tons of food are wasted annually.
It is often thought that food waste problems happen in developed countries, and food insecurity problem does in developing countries. Is it actually true? The answer is “No”. Especially, as many immigrants, single mother families, and discharged workers made redundant in developed countries are in trouble getting enough food for their families and themselves. Approaching this issue, in many world-leading countries including the UK and the US, nonprofits such as food banks and food pantries are working on it, and the idea of food donation has spread through the nation.
The problem of Japan is that these food supports haven’t been developed like other advanced countries. In Tokyo, there are only about 50 places that people can receive emergency food by 2015, whereas New York has more than a thousand. A reason of this might be Japanese people don’t know or consent to the fact that poverty exists in Japan. Most of them earn money, at least, to eat every day, and their neighbours do too. Although it is common to donate or prepare food for natural disaster victims, such as earthquakes and tsunami in the Tohoku area in 2011, many of them haven’t recognised the poverty near themselves.
The movement of food support
Since hunger in Japan has become a concerning discussion topic, some projects have been started to solve this problem.
Second Harvest Japan (2HJ), the first food bank in Japan, started their project in 2000. Their aim is the establishment of the food security net in Japan. That means people can access an emergency food supplier when they don’t have any food to eat. 2HJ has set up food bank and food pantry systems, which collect food that can’t be sold due to the sell-by date, the unstandardised shape, etc. from food suppliers and donate to welfare facilities for children, single mother households, people with disabilities, and individual people in poverty. Also, they run a soup kitchen for the homeless once a week in Ueno Park,
Tokyo. These projects are run by many volunteers and sponsored companies. Since 2HJ started their activities, they have delivered more than 4 million meals with support from volunteers and companies. Currently, they have expanded their food-banking project to other countries in Asia by establishing Second Harvest Asia with the same aim. For the future, they are disseminating and giving lectures about the poverty status in Japan and the idea of food support in various parts of Japan since they have been acting mainly in Tokyo. Due to this, many people have been sympathised by 2HJ’s project and been motivated to act for the food supporting project in Japan, for instance establishing a new food bank and opening a soup kitchen not only for the homeless but also for children.
The Prospects for the food insecurity future in Japan
Like the food bank example above, the action for the food insecurity is just getting started. The necessity of food supports should be spread all over Japan so that it will lead the movement to take action. Besides, the existence of the support should be given high visibility among people who need help. As the first step to achieve it, continuous public relations campaigns would be necessary. It will lead to establishing local food banks and food pantries in various places in Japan. Especially, more food pantries, which can help emergency needs, should be set up using local temples, churches, and government offices. In addition, local governments should approach much further about this issue because governments compile statistics of citizens’ living condition and know who needs help. Therefore, they can be a bridge between supporters and people in need by introducing the food supporting facilities. Also, the governments can solve a fundamental problem of people in poverty by other life supports including the employment and child support.
In this issue, I am concerned the most that people in need might hesitate to receive or access the support because they might think it is embarrassing and don’t want to be different from others. It seems that they think they might be bullied or excluded by their community due to being poor. Therefore, the correct knowledge about this issue should be spread, and the whole community should cooperate to solve it. The build-out of a community that they can live without anxiety is a key to success.
Japan might be seen as a country without any problem, but it is not true. There are people who suffer from poverty and need help. Japanese people should realise this serious problem in their own country and take action against it. I believe that this movement makes Japan, moreover, Asia and the world, a better place.