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Yoroku: Living anonymously in the Tokyo district of Kabukicho

For people who want to find a place to disappear and live anonymously amidst the crowds of Kabukicho in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, which is known as the liveliest entertainment district in all of Japan, a restaurant known as "Kakekomi gyoza" ("last-minute dumplings) provides just the place to forget one's past.

    Opened by a nonprofit organization known as the Nippon Kakekomidera Social Minority Association just over six months ago, the gyoza specialty restaurant provides part-time jobs for those who formerly spent time in prison or in juvenile correctional institutions.

    The restaurant provides opportunities for individuals to experience working alongside others while also getting a chance for a fresh start. As such, it is gaining a steady reputation as a workplace for those who have recently finished serving time in prison.

    Kakekomidera employee Ryuichi Chiba, 33, worked hard on the gyoza shop's opening. A counselor for those who are struggling with personal problems such as violence and debt, Chiba says that a client once told him, "Because of your assistance, I was able to live one more day today."

    Chiba acknowledges that he is making a difference, but adds, "I actually feel like the one being helped is me."

    During the spring of his second year in university, a car that Chiba was driving plunged into a guardrail. His friend and high school baseball club teammate, who was sitting in the passenger seat, was killed.

    Chiba's other baseball teammates pleaded for his sentence to be reduced, and told him, "You've got to live your life to the fullest -- for our friend's sake as well."

    In the end, Chiba was given a suspended prison term. Would he ever find a way to make up for his friend's death, he wondered? He decided to become a lawyer in order to help others -- but continually failed the required examination.

    Chiba then came across an online ad looking for an employee at Kakekomidera. At the time, he was over 30 years old.

    One young person who came to work at the gyoza store had lived alone since the age of 16 after the individual's parents had left home. Due to a fear of betrayal, the employee had been unable to trust others.

    The youth, who was arrested in a case of assault, now works at the shop attending customers, and reports feeling a burgeoning sense of self-confidence -- as well as a sense of happiness when the shop is busy, even though this means hard work. The employee also loves Chiba like an older brother.

    Kabukicho in December is thronged with never-ending waves of people. At Kakekomi gyoza as well, this is high season.

    The lives of an endless number of anonymous individuals find intersection in this town -- including those with pain in their hearts who are endeavoring to start their lives anew. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)

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