In Tokyo, you can really pay for your meal by doing the dishes

At Mirai Shokudo, customers can work for their food. — Picture courtesy of Mirai Shokudo
At Mirai Shokudo, customers can work for their food. — Picture courtesy of Mirai Shokudo

TOKYO, March 10 — Japan might be the world’s third strongest economy but that doesn’t mean some of its citizens don’t struggle to put food on the table.

According to Global Citizen, the country has a “16.3 per cent poverty rate, extreme income inequality, and staggeringly high rates of child poverty for a developed nation”.

For Tokyo residents who can’t always afford a hot meal, one restaurateur is using a clever business model to ensure that a lack of funds never has to mean a lack of food.

Customers can also opt to donate their meal to a more deserving person if they wish. — Picture courtesy of Mirai Shokudo
Customers can also opt to donate their meal to a more deserving person if they wish. — Picture courtesy of Mirai Shokudo

At restaurant Mirai Shokudo in the city’s Jimbocho district, Chef Sekai Kobayashi gives customers the option to earn one free meal by working a 50-minute shift.

Tasks include taking orders, clearing tables, washing dishes and even minding the cash till.

After completing their shift, Kobayashi’s ‘helpers’ can elect to donate their meal to another customer.

The ex-programmer is the restaurant’s only permanent employee and she relies entirely on would-be customers to assist her in all the tasks necessary to operate a restaurant.

A set meal at Mirai Shokudo. — Picture courtesy of Mirai Shokudo
A set meal at Mirai Shokudo. — Picture courtesy of Mirai Shokudo

In an interview with Singapore’s Straits Times, Kobayashi said the goal of her food-meets-community model is to be ‘inclusive’ of disadvantaged people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to eat out.

“I use this system because I want to connect with hungry people who otherwise couldn’t eat at restaurants because they don’t have money,” she was quoted as saying.

She added that she welcomes foreigners who are interested in learning Japanese cuisine, or improving their Japanese language skills.

Since opening in 2016, Mirai Shokudo has seen 500 people complete one-off shifts in exchange for a free meal, the report said.

More information about the restaurant can be found here.

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