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Big Issue Japan's 'nighttime bakery' selling bread to support homeless, reduce food waste

The nighttime bakery run by The Big Issue Japan is seen in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 1, 2020. (Mainichi/Takashi Okumura)

TOKYO -- The Big Issue Japan -- perhaps best known for its magazine sold by homeless people -- is getting into the bread business at the head of an initiative called the "nighttime bakery," an effort to drive down food waste and help people on the street facing even more difficult circumstances from the pandemic.

    At the nighttime bakery, bread left unsold at popular Tokyo bakeries is stocked and put on sale again in the late hours in Shinjuku Ward's Kagurazaka neighborhood. The project offers an opportunity for people struggling to make ends meet to get work they can do quickly and easily, and a chance to reduce food waste.

    A trial run on Oct. 1 coincided with the day that the Food Loss Reduction Promotion Act went into effect. Under the storefront of Kamome Books, a book shop and cafe situated opposite the Tokyo Metro Tozai Line's Kagurazaka Station, a long line had already formed 30 minutes before the pop-up nighttime bakery was set to open. They decided to start earlier than scheduled, and sold a steady stream of bags of bread at 750 and 1,400 yen. In just an hour they had sold out, and soon after, the staff erupted into applause.

    The bread for that first nighttime bakery had come from three shops: Beaver Bread in the Higashinihombashi neighborhood of Chuo Ward, L'atelier Cocco in Minato Ward's Shirokane, and Nakanoya in the Sekiguchi area of Bunkyo Ward.

    Tokuchika Nishi, 41, a Big Issue magazine seller who worked picking up the bread from other stores and selling it, said, "Because people are staying home, passerby numbers are down, and sales of the magazine have been halved. Today we had people who bought not only the bread but also magazines, and I felt there was meaning here in the idea of starting something new."

    Nahomi Edamoto, a culinary researcher who originated the idea for the nighttime bakery, is seen working at its first trial run on Oct. 1, 2020, in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. (Mainichi/Takashi Okumura)

    The scheme is the brainchild of culinary researcher Nahomi Edamoto, 65. She told the Mainichi Shimbun that the idea came from her thinking for a long time about "creating a cycle of helping to reduce the wastage of food products that have been made with care, and then distributing that food to the people who need it."

    She added that the spread of the coronavirus was also on her mind. At the Big Issue's offices, there has been a marked increase in people coming to them in dire situations due to the pandemic, and asking for work. At the same time, huge amounts of food were continuing to be thrown away each day. It was then that Edamoto began taking flyers around to bakeries and finding shops willing to participate in her idea.

    The nighttime bakery marks the first time the Big Issue Japan has sold anything but magazines. The head of its Tokyo office, Miku Sano, said, "If the number of bakeries willing to cooperate with us increases, we'll be able to go further in reducing food waste."

    Tsuyoshi Inaba, representative director of Tsukuroi Tokyo Fund, a general incorporated association grappling with poverty issues, said, "in our societal structure, the coronavirus is pushing more people into the kind of hardship that forces them onto the street or to live in internet cafes. But before these kinds of private-level 'mutual assistance' initiatives step in, there needs to be changes to the trend of advocating an ideology of self-responsibility, including in politics."

    The nighttime bakery will open intermittently outside Kamome Books, and organizers are reportedly also looking into using a kitchen car for mobile sales. The nighttime bakery schedule can be found on the Big Issue Japan's website, at: www.bigissue.jp.

    (Japanese original by Takashi Okumura, Procurement and Property Headquarters)

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