To give disadvantaged children a better chance to interact with others in their communities, a number of makeshift eateries run by volunteers have begun sprouting up throughout the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Known as “children’s diners,” the sites are typically found at temples, churches, community centers and existing eateries, where they drawing attention not only as charities for children from low-income, single-parent or other disadvantaged households, but as places where the kids’ frayed bonds with their communities can be revived.

There are about 100 of the diners so far, mostly in Tokyo and surrounding areas, feeding needy children for free or on the cheap. That number is likely to climb as seminars introducing volunteers to the basics of the operations grow.

One seminar held at Zonmyoji Temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward in mid-January attracted an audience of 19 including housewives, a caregiver, a teacher and a Buddhist priest. Four people who have opened children’s diners taught the participants how to procure food and the best techniques for raising funds.

Chieko Kuribayashi, who heads a nonprofit organization managing some of the diners, told participants the diners must first and foremost be places where children can forge bonds with others in the community and regain their confidence.

“Don’t worry about formalities,” she said. “Take action first.”

In the audience was a mother of three who said one of her children had stopped attending school because of bullying.

“I want to start a diner for children from single-parent families and children who are not attending school,” the woman said.

The seminars, held four times since last July, have drawn about 80 people so far, with attendees responsible for opening about 20 of the diners, according to the Children’s Diners Network, which organizes the events.

The operating hours for each temporary site depend on the volunteers. In many cases, children can eat for free.

In the western Tokyo suburb of Mitaka, one woman who started a diner in October with a seminar classmate said there are no rigid rules on how to run the site, which has created a sense of camaraderie between her and others interested in helping.

Hiroko Kondo, the woman who coined the “children’s diners” phrase, opened one in Tokyo in March.

Kondo said the impetus for her was a sense of concern about fading neighborhood unity in Japan’s communities. Children’s diners, she said, can provide children with opportunities to interact with other people, helping bring communities closer.


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