Besides manufacturing stuff, what do condiment maker Kagome, snacks producer Calbee and pharmaceutical company Rohto have in common? Not much, but in any case the three firms have joined forces to establish a foundation called Michinoku Mirai (Northern Region Future) to provide funds for young people who were orphaned by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami to pay for university or post-secondary vocational school. According to the Health Welfare and Labor Ministry, about 1,500 youngsters aged 18 or less lost both parents in the disaster, and starting in March 2012, those who graduate from high school and wish to continue their education can apply for up to ¥3 million a year from the fund to pay for anything related to that education, including entry fees, tuition and supplies.
The three companies estimate that the fund will need about ¥200 million a year, and each one will start by contributing ¥30 million for the first year, with the remainder coming from solicited contributions. They will continue supplying the fund with money for 20 years, at which point children who were orphaned as infants by the disaster will have graduated from high school. The reason the fund was created is that there is no public support in Japan for the continuing education of orphans. When orphans reach the age of 18, they are on their own. Foster care ends at 18, and since in Japan there is very little in the way of what in the West are called scholarships — meaning education grants — orphans almost never attend university. The exception is the long-standing, specialized private foundation Ashinaga Ikueikai, which provides educational support to orphans all their lives, from elementary to graduate school.