TOKYO -- Model Reika Tanaka grew up in an orphanage for children who could not live with their parents for any number of reasons, none of them happy ones. Now, seeking to broaden people's understanding of these institutions, she is donating a book she authored about her experiences to schools across Japan.
Tanaka, whose book is titled "Jidoyogoshisetsu to iu Watashi no Ouchi" (My home which is an orphanage), is also supporting kids in care to advance their educations. The 26-year-old tells the Mainichi Shimbun, "I want people to understand that these children's institutions exist, and know the kids who live there."
When she was just 7 years old, Tanaka and her elder sister fled their home in their pajamas, and went to a police box. Their mother had already left the family, and their father took out his anger on the two girls. The sisters were placed in protective custody. Tanaka lived in an orphanage in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward until she was 18, and began modeling after entering junior college.
While working, Tanaka made her personal history public, and in 2020 launched an information site on social care for children living in group homes or with foster parents. She is also the representative director of "Yumesapo," an organization that provides support such as subsidies for taking entrance exams and career counseling for orphans who want to go to university.
About 23,000 kids live in some 600 orphanages nationwide. They are there for varying reasons, from abuse to sick parents. Generally, they leave institutional care at age 18, but quite a few of them become isolated because they have nowhere to turn for help. When Tanaka began living on her own when she was about 19, she too "felt gloomy after hearing on news that people from group homes are likely to have a difficult time."
However, she recalled thinking, "A facility where kids can grow up together is an irreplaceable home for them. There are also adults who support them. I want to get this across to others in an easily understandable way." To do this, in December 2021 she released a book covering the daily life and basic data of group homes and the children who live there, based on her own experiences.
She solicited donations, and gave copies of her book to elementary and junior high schools in Setagaya and four other wards in the capital as well as the city of Kitakyushu, in hopes that school staff in particular would learn about the situation. She says she will donate copies to schools in five prefectures including Gifu, Aichi and Shiga.
Tanaka on May 19 donated 44 copies of the book to Hachioji City Hall in western Tokyo to be delivered to municipal elementary and junior high schools. Hachioji Mayor Takayuki Ishimori said, "Citizens have few chances to learn about these institutions, so I hope many people will read the book."
Tanaka commented, "I want to connect (my activities) to a society where children do not have to give up on their dreams regardless of their background."
(Japanese original by Megumi Nokura, Hachioji Bureau)