By Yuzuki Isota
The room is bright and warm a little bit with sunlight even it is December. Bright piano music is on. Two small children aged 7 and 19 months, and their mothers eat lunch sitting around the table. Small children clatter of cutlery and dishes while eating. Sometimes they babble something. Their mothers say to them, “Isn’t it yummy?” while their children are chewing.
In the kitchen, the owner of the cafeteria, Ms. Chimi Suyama wearing white sling and checked apron takes a taste of the today’s main dish, chicken piccata in skillet after moving her mask down. Sizzle of it resounds across the room. While she is cooking for lunch, the door opens and the elderly man enters to collect empty bottles. Before he receive bottles, he gave lots of carrots in plastic bag the owner. “I got carrots too much. Use these for meals,” says the man. “Thank you so much,” Ms. Suyama says.
There is an original cafeteria named “Osusowake Shokudo Mado,”and it is located in Kami city, Kochi prefecture. The Japanese word “Osusowake” means to share something with others, to put it simply. However, the word has meaning more like paying it forward or sharing something with warmness. “Shokudo” means cafeteria, and “Mado” means window. The owner hopes the cafeteria would be a window that people could have connection with others. Also, there is other kanji that could read as mado. That kanji of mado stands for circle. She also wishes cycles of “Osusowake” last for long time.
The cafeteria plays some kinds of roles, and it is a reason for that the cafeteria is considered original. One is “Kodomo Shokudo.” The term means the place where children can have meals cheaply. One article says Kochi prefecture has one of the highest rate of divorce, and families with single parent. These situations tend to lead to poverty, and sometimes they make children difficult to have meals. If they can have meals cheaply, it would lead to support for both children and their parents. Actually, children including high school students can have meals for 300 yen at Mado. Also, all the customers have another helpings of rice and soup so that they can be full.
Another one is that it commits itself to reduce the amount of food waste happening in field. This is not a problem limited to the Kami city or Kochi prefecture, but everywhere in Japan. As to the food waste, the Japanese tend to focus it happening at convenience store, and supermarket. However, it happens before vegetables get to these places as well. Generally, Japanese people have tendency to prefer good-looking food, so farmers cannot ship if vegetables have something wrong on their surface.
The other reason is that the owner tries to support small-scale farmers by paying cash back. It has strong relation to the second one. In order to commit reducing the amount of food waste, the owner tries to use substandard vegetables that are not sold at supermarket. She collects such vegetables by visiting farmers or they bring vegetables to the cafeteria kindly. In exchange of receiving them for free, the owner tries to pay cash back to farmers because she thinks it would help them financially.
The owner, Ms. Suyama is a graduate from Faculty of Agriculture and Marine Sciences, Kochi University. She started owing the cafeteria in September of 2020, when she was a senior of the university.“I did not expect that I would own the cafeteria as a job in the beginning,” the owner says, “I just wanted to test if the system works in real. Students are tend to be supported because of the youth compared to adults, and it was easier for me to try.”
“After relocation in April of 2021, I can open this cafeteria in daytime, not only night time. It resulted in the increasing the number of children who visit Mado. Even non-attending students visit here,” she says. Many families with children visit the cafeteria. There are Japanese-style low table and special chair for small children. These facilities let families with children stay comfortably.
Today’s menu changes every day depend on what kind of vegetables the owner get from farmers. She thinks about tomorrow’s menu at night of the day before. She got leaves of Japanese radish, eggplants, and cucumber as Osusowake. She made soup with the leaves of Japanese radish and Chinese chive, and she made side dishes: the eggplants and Chinese chive mixed with Chinese dressing, and rubbed cucumbers with sour taste frikake, which is topping on rice. Also, she made crisps using sweet potatoes that she raised in field in front of the cafeteria.
As to economic aspects, the cafeteria has some unique systems so that customers can support it. The first way is called“Otsuri wa irane-ze.” This is Japanese sentence, and it means “I refuse to get change” in English. Next, customers can leave ohineri, Japanese term that stands for tip wrapped with paper on the table. If they want, they can write message for such as the owner, farmers and next customers on the paper. The money will be used for paying back for farmers, and preparing of project that the cafeteria hires women raising children. Also, if customers are not afford to pay the money, then they can help the cafeteria by helping. For instance, they can wash dishes at kitchen, or they can serve cooking utensils. Customers can act in these ways, but these are not duties. These are forms of “Osusowake.”
“I want to pay cash back to farmers in accordance with my first plan, but farmers tend to refuse receiving cash when I tried,” she explains about plan with wry smile on her face, “They do not expect return at all, and they feel happy by just giving something to others. It is one of the specific characteristics of residents in Kochi.” She thinks it is one of the problems that the cafeteria has, and she suppose that the cafeteria needs new type of systems to support farmers. She visits farmers, and help their farming when the cafeteria is closed. This is one way to support them.
She feels happy when customers have praise for meals, and the policies are praised. Especially, she was glad when some children came there without parents because she wanted to make the cafeteria such place, where children can visit and stay there with no specific reasons.
On the other hand, she also went through sad situation up to now. “One day, a child was romping,” she continues, “A man, who was having a lunch near the child left a note on the table. He wrote “the child was too noisy. You should caution it.” Then I was disappointed because he did not understand the concept of this cafeteria.”
She has some future goals. Firstly, she will continue the cafeteria at current location for next several years doing some improvement so that everyone who visits there can feel more comfortable. She wants the cafeteria takes root in the region. Second, she would like to open other cafeterias like what she owns right now in other spot. “Wherever rural area of Japan, there would be farmers,” she says, “They have substandard vegetables as ones in this area do. I suppose the system of this cafeteria could work even in different place. If others say “I would like to open the cafeteria like Mado” one day, I can support them by making use of my experience here.”
“As the cafeteria’s name is “Osusowake Shokudo,” we have connections with others with the spirit of “Osusowake,” she tells massage for readers, “ A region would be better little by little if residents living there act showing consideration for others. What is “Osusowake” that you can do for people around you? I hope you think about the question.”