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Nagoya yakiniku restaurant offering free meal for 1 single-parent family per week

Katsumi Kito, owner of Yakiniku Awaza, is seen in Nagoya's Higashi Ward on March 2, 2023. (Mainichi/Sanami Kato)

NAGOYA -- A yakiniku grilled meat restaurant in this central Japan city is offering a free meal for a single-parent family every Saturday night.

    Katsumi Kito, owner of Yakiniku Awaza in Nagoya's Higashi Ward, launched the initiative to help those who have suffered from the coronavirus pandemic. Managing the restaurant is tough as the number of customers has not returned to the figure before the pandemic, but the 63-year-old says he "is more than happy to see people in a state of joy" and hopes "people can enjoy meals at their leisure."

    In late February, a 35-year-old mother and her two children from the prefectural city of Ama were sitting at a table when plates of beef and vegetables arrived one after another. They carefully grilled the meat and relished the food, saying, "It's been a long time since we ate out." The 12-year-old boy gave a thumbs-up and exclaimed, "This is the best!" while his mother and 13-year-old sister had smiles on their faces.

    Kito opened the restaurant, which serves the finest Japanese beef, in 2010 after he quit his job as a salaried worker. Located in an area where many yakiniku eateries stand side by side, Yakiniku Awaza began gaining popularity by word of mouth and other means only to be struck by the pandemic.

    A single-parent family enjoys grilled meat at Yakiniku Awaza in Nagoya's Higashi Ward in late February. (Mainichi/Sanami Kato)

    While managing to run the restaurant using government funds offered to those who complied with requests for shortened business hours, Kito learned of eateries supporting single-parent households. Wondering if he could do something to help, he consulted Hiroe Yamamoto, secretary general of the prefectural federation of single parents and children's welfare.

    In order to keep up the efforts for a long time without it being a heavy burden, he decided to set up a table every Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and offer the "Awaza Set," which is usually only available on weekday evenings and costs about 2,500 yen (about $19) per person, for free.

    Although he did his best for about a year starting in the summer of 2020, the coronavirus continued to spread, forcing the restaurant to close temporarily. It began to invite single-parent families again in December 2022.

    The number of customers is down 20% compared to figures before the pandemic, and the restaurant is also affected by price hikes, but Kito says he feels encouraged when parents and children say, "I've never had such tender meat," and, "It was delicious, thank you." Kito smiled and said, "We also enjoy the experience and it gives us courage. As long as we have the restaurant, we want to keep doing it."

    According to a survey conducted last September by the welfare federation on 547 single-parent households in Aichi Prefecture with children under the age of 20, 13% responded they had "lost their jobs" due to the pandemic, and 42% said "their amount of work decreased."

    As for living conditions, 41% of the respondents said that their lives had become "considerably more difficult," and 53% said that their lives were "gradually becoming more difficult."

    Secretary general Yamamoto told the Mainichi Shimbun, "There are many people whose incomes have not returned to normal, and the high cost of living is dealing an additional blow. The burden is even heavier as single parents have to do everything on their own, but some are unable to speak up, and it is essential for the community to work together to support them."

    (Japanese original by Sanami Kato, Nagoya News Center)

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