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Ex-teacher opens rice ball store that also helps kids with developmental disorders

Hiromi Tsumita is seen at her "Itokichi" rice ball store, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, in this recent photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A former special-needs school teacher opened a rice ball (onigiri) store here in March that not only sells 100-yen rice balls, but also offers rice-ball making workshops and provides educational consultation for children with developmental disorders.

    Hiromi Tsumita, 57, launched her "Itokichi" store in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward in spring, having quit her teaching job at a Tokyo-based special-needs school -- where she worked for 34 years until 2017.

    In her previous job, Tsumita focused her efforts on cooking classes, inspiring kids with disabilities to cook safely using peelers instead of knives, among other approaches, and to assist their parents with tasks inside the home.

    She received an enthusiastic response among children who typically found it difficult to concentrate in class -- for example when they turned up to cooking class with aprons wrapped around their waists.

    However, in March 2017, Tsumita fancied a change. "I wanted to try something else. I wanted to run a cooking class where children with disabilities and their parents could relax and enjoy themselves," Tsumita says, explaining why she took early retirement.

    After leaving her teaching job, Tsumita underwent training at another store in Chiyoda Ward called "Mirai Shokudo," which is run by a former IT engineer. There, Tsumita was told about a good property nearby by one of Mirai Shokudo's regular customers. She went on to use the property as the site of her rice ball store.

    She chose the name "Itokichi," based on two components from the Chinese character meaning "tie," or "bond," which she felt captured the connections that prompted her to start her new business.

    Itokichi sells rice balls and soup on weekdays from morning until the afternoon. On Saturdays and public holidays, the store is only open in the afternoon, during which time she provides an educational consultation service for children with developmental disorders. The first visit is free.

    Tsumita also offers 60-minute workshops to children who struggle eating in restaurants, and to foreigners looking to try out rice-ball making. The workshop fee is 2,000 yen for adults. During the workshop, participants can freely select their own filling, and also grill the rice balls or even pour tea on the rice to create a dish called "chazuke."

    "I want to turn this into a store which anyone -- from busy salarymen to children with disabilities to foreign visitors -- can use conveniently," Tsumita says.

    (Japanese original by Haruna Okuyama, City News Department)

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