With 1 in 6 children in Japan living in a household with financial difficulties, a growing number of temples nationwide are donating snacks that they have received as offerings to impoverished youngsters.
In the Tokai region, a group of young monks has created the Otera Oyatsu Club (Temple Snack Club) in an effort to bring some happiness to these children’s lives.
Ten monks in ceremonial robes gathered Feb. 2 in a circle in Kuonji Temple in Naka Ward, Nagoya, praying and chanting a sutra amid the sound of a temple bell.
Boxes of snacks, spices and vegetables were piled up in the middle of the circle. The items were offerings given to the temple and contributions from people who support the monks’ activities.
Every month, the monks pack the food collected from other temples into cardboard boxes along with letters offering good wishes for the children’s health.
Usually the snacks temples receive as offerings are thrown away.
“We hope to share (with children) the offerings to Buddha,” said Shinyu Takayama, 37, vice chief priest.
The boxes are delivered to more than 10 destinations in Aichi Prefecture, including Kodomo Shokudo, a facility offering free food services for impoverished children, and child welfare centers.
The activity was started in 2013 by a temple in Nara Prefecture following reports that a 28-year-old mother and her 3-year-old son had passed away in Osaka Prefecture.
No food other than salt was found in their apartment, leaving authorities to assume the cause of their death was starvation or murder-suicide.
The movement quickly gained momentum, with the number of participating temples growing from two to 255 in 42 prefectures.
In six prefectures in the Chubu region, 43 temples from different sects have joined in.
Takayama joined the activity with other monks last June, starting from delivering snacks to organizations supporting single-parent households.
“This experience taught me that poverty is not limited to a particular region, but something that is happening close to us,” he said.
He receives letters from the organizations thanking them for their efforts.
At the same time, some people ask for advice on how to deal with children who were physically abused, or write to them to confess their dark thoughts of death.
Takayama writes back, hoping to offer comfort and solace to these people.
Potosu no Heya, a facility in Atsuta Ward, Nagoya, that provides study help to junior high and high school students free of charge, is one of the organizations that receives the snacks.
When the monks arrived to deliver the food on the evening of Feb. 2, nine students who were there immediately headed toward them.
All are either from households receiving welfare assistance or single-parent households.
“You can have some,” said representative Chizuko Yamada, 67.
“I’m digging in already,” a first-year junior high student said loudly, making the people around him laugh.
One of the female students turned to one monk and joked, “You look like a celebrity!”
“All of these children are faced with a heavy burden. These snacks are nutrition for their heart,” Yamada said.
The Otera Oyatsu Club’s headquarters in Tokyo is looking for more temples and organizations interested in participating. For inquiries, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Feb. 4.