TSU, MIE PREF. – Elderly residents in a small town in Mie Prefecture consider 22-year-old Mao Higashi a great help when she delivers food from her truck.
Rain or shine, Higashi starts loading food into her truck from a refrigerator in her office in the town of Kihoku at 7 a.m. every morning and then visits wholesalers to purchase “bento” boxed meals to sell on her rounds through the local villages, mainly to elderly patrons.
Higashi then goes to a nearby fishing port at around 8 a.m., where she sells products to people gathered for the fish auction, and later drives to hamlets in the nearby mountains as well as to day care facilities.
In all, she makes around 15 stops a day.
“People are waiting for me. I can’t cancel my rounds for my own convenience,” said Higashi, who only takes Sundays off.
She lives in her hometown of Kihoku with her parents and younger brother. She began her delivery service in February 2012 when she was in her third year of university. At the time, Higashi did not know what she wanted to do after graduation the following spring, but she enjoyed chatting with customers during her part-time job at a convenience store.
Higashi recalled seeing a TV report featuring elderly people living in a small town that was slowly losing its population. They were buying food from a delivery truck, which made Higashi think of her 83-year-old grandmother, Masako, whom she often drove to stores.
Aware that Kihoku has many seniors who are unable to walk to supermarkets, Higashi found her calling.
Describing herself as “impatient,” she bought a small used truck with financial support from her 58-year-old father, Yoshiharu, and obtained a license to sell food.
Initially cold-calling around the area, Higashi failed to find many customers. “She appeared pretty discouraged but never complained,” said her father, who is a fisherman.
But word spread among the community, and “Mao’s Errand Truck” service quickly became a well-known fixture in Kihoku.
Yoshiko Onishi, an 82-year-old housewife, buys food items from Higashi three times a week. Onishi calls the service “very helpful” because she “no longer needs to walk for 25 minutes to a supermarket on a road with heavy traffic, including dump trucks,” and can now get what she wants by phoning in an order.
Even people living close to a supermarket buy from Higashi. “There are lots of people who can’t walk even a short distance,” she said.
“I’m very happy to know there are people waiting for me,” Higashi said.
Many of her friends have left the town due to the limited career prospects.
Asked if she wants to live in a big city, Higashi said, “A little, but I feel I’m needed here.”