Value the place where children can be “themselves”: Interview with Kanako Takeda of the ICU Kodomo Shokudo!

In our 32nd interview, we interviewed Kanako Takeda of ID24, who is the founder and an active member of ICU Kodomo Shokudo (ICU Children’s Cafeteria). 

She started the ICU Kodomo Shokudo from scratch. We asked her about her thoughts when starting the cafeteria and what she learned about children’s cafeteria and work with children.

The article contains many of her thoughts on what the ICU Kodomo Shokudo aims to become and what we should think about today. 

Read the article to find out more!

Q1. Could you tell us about your activity?

Mainly, we create a comfortable place for children. Our ultimate goal is to open a “kodomo-shokudo” for a wider group of people. We hope to have meals together in a heartwarming atmosphere

As a preparation, we participate in events with the local people and plan events for children. 

Q2.Could you tell us more about it?

We usually do two types of activities, in turn, every month.

①Participating events in Mitaka

We participate in an event named “M marché” in Mitaka Chuodori. The last two times, our theme was “plant seeds.” We made hydroponics kits with children and gave customers vegetable seeds and recipes. We also joined the event in Musashisakai. We are aspiring to spread our activity range.

———How do you decide on the theme or prepare for the event?

We decide on the theme by listing out what our members hope to implement. We consider whether children can enjoy with ease and whether the plan is cost-friendly or not.  

②Events for children

We hold events in “shi-nomi kodomo no ie,” which is a place where children come and play freely. We made baked sweet potatoes and candles. In the future, we aim to host events outside “shi-nomi kodomo no ie” as well.

———How did you make connections to hold events? 

To enlarge our activity range, Mr. Fujinuma, our organization advisor, introduced us to ICU graduates working in Mitaka.

We plan to implement the “colomaga-project”—a project where children will publish the local magazine. Although we have financial constraints, we are expecting to lead the project in a few years.

———Could you explain more about that project?

Children will create the local magazine. They will interview local places such as the traditional factories and make articles with the assistance of a professional editor. We are considering about subsidy to broaden this project.

Q3. When did you start the activity?

We made this organization last May. We started this activity last October.

Q4. Please tell us what made you decide to do this activity.

I always loved children and I was thinking to do something related to them while I was a university student. Also, since I was a small child, I always liked the time to spend together eating meals. One day, I was very disappointed to hear that elementary school students were continuing to shut down their school lunches due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 From that time, I was interested in the activities of children’s cafeterias and started researching about those, but I could not find one that aligned with my values and thoughts. In the end, I did not take any action, but last spring, I suddenly had an idea and posted a story on my Instagram and saying, “Is anyone interested in creating a children’s cafeteria?” I received more replies than I expected, so I decided to give it a try.

___What is the ideal children’s cafeteria that you envision?

 I think the original cafeterias targeted poor children, and I think those concepts are important. However, an ideal cafeteria I envision is to create a place for everyone, regardless of their economic situation. Here, people can get together and have fun; if children do not feel comfortable at home or school, a cafeteria where they can feel safe and be themselves would be ideal.

 The reason why I am focused on children’s cafeteria is that I have always loved eating and sharing delicious food with others, so I wanted to create a space where people can spend time together sharing that kind of happiness.

Q5. How did you feel when you started out?

 It was a strange feeling because I never thought I would actually start a student organization. But at the same time, I was happy to be able to start taking action, and I feel motivated when I see the children and members enjoying themselves.

________ What do you value in running a student organization, and what have been some of the difficulties?

 I think it is important to determine a balance that makes it easy for everyone to participate, and listen to what they particularly want to do from everyone as much as possible. For example, some members may not be able to attend meetings as much, but would like to participate in events and work with children, while others would rather be involved in planning activities than attending events. Therefore, I place the utmost importance on communication within the organization so that each person can engage in the activities they prefer.

 One of the hardest things we had to do was to make rules for our organization. When deciding on activity policies, I wanted to make sure that the activities would not be too difficult for everyone, but if the policies were vague, the progress of the activities sometimes became too loose. During that period, I wondered how far we should go to tighten the rules within the team.

Q6. Have you noticed anything new through your activities?

To be honest, I have not studied enough and do not have much specialized knowledge even though I am allowed to engage in this kind of activity. However, I am always surprised at how many things children think about when I am involved with them in this way. This makes me think that we should be more honest with ourselves.

What I want people to know is that there are many different kinds of children, even though we cannot see them clearly. I myself often don’t even realize it until I am told. And I tend to look for children who are having difficulties and think that I should do something to help them. However, in order to create a comfortable place for everyone, I think it is more important to treat everyone in the same way and respect each child as an individual than to seek out such children. Looking at the children, I feel they are very good at that.

________ Please tell us if you have noticed that children are thinking about many things.

It would be very specific, but for example, there is space like a hallway in front of one of the rooms in Shi-nomil children’s house, and the daycare center is at the back of the hallway. Usually, the children are in the rooms, but they can also go out into that hallway to play. However, because of the pick-up time of the daycare center, children and parents from the daycare center also pass by, so children are not allowed to do anything dangerous in the hallway.

We do not allow children to do anything dangerous there. One time, when the children were about to play there and an adult said, “Not now, don’t play there,” the children said, “No one is passing by at this time, so we want to play here while we still can. Another time, when the children were thinking about where to play, while we adults were thinking, “This is a big place, so you can play here,” the children suggested another place, saying, “Another child is eating snacks there, so I think it would be better not to play there. I often have the opportunity to feel that the children are thinking and acting in ways that the adults may not be aware of.

Q8: Did you find it difficult to work with children in the course of your activities?

Yes, I have found it difficult because I am an adult and have experienced and know a lot of things. When the girls were coloring, one of the girls referred to herself in the first person as “boku” (I). I don’t know if it was a gender thing or just a kind of habit, like little girls calling themselves by their nicknames, but I found myself feeling uncomfortable at that moment. On the other hand, the children accepted it as normal and didn’t seem to feel anything strange about it, in a good way.

There is a part of me that cares because I have learned many things in the process of growing up. I feel that if I were more advanced in this way of thinking about myself, I would give special treatment to these children, and I think this is a very difficult part of dealing with children. We tend to think that because we have had a variety of experiences, we have to give consideration to many aspects. However, when we think about whether this consideration is comfortable for the children, we sometimes feel that it is not necessarily good when we see the children in the space. I think we need to consider how to deal with children in this aspect as well.

Q9. What would you like to tell society?

I don’t know if that is enough to tell society, but my hope is that there will always be a place where children can be themselves.

_____ What do you feel the current children’s cafeteria is like? Also, what kind of space would you like to value in the children’s cafeteria?

I have not fully understood what kind of place a children’s cafeteria in general is, in part because I have not studied it enough. However, for example, when I look at various schools today, rather than children’s cafeterias, I wonder if there are more opportunities for children to be in touch with things like differences between people, such as gender diversity. That is not a bad thing, of course, and it is important. But if this makes children more sensitive to things like differences and discomfort between people, then I hope that there will be spaces where they do not have to worry about such things.

As I myself grew up, I was told more and more about various differences and things like diversity, and the reason for this is of course that I moved up in grade, but I also wonder if that is not the only reason. The more sensitive I become to this aspect, the more I see the children interacting with each other in a very pure way, as themselves, without thinking about differences, and I feel that this is important. I felt that this was important, and at the same time, I wished that children would always be like this.

Q9. If there is anything you would like to do or try in the future, please let us know!

We would like to become more independent as an organization. We are dependent on the events and facilities that already exist now, so I would like to take the initiative as ICU Kodomo Shokudo to take action. Ultimately, I would like to run a children’s cafeteria in some form.

______ Do you have any future plans to promote the ideal children’s cafeteria?

At this point, since I am at ICU, I would like to create a children’s cafeteria where children in the Mitaka neighborhood can create communication within the community. For this purpose, I believe it is necessary to connect not only children but also people of various generations and occupations. For example, it would be possible to have a children’s cafeteria just for children and members of the ICU Kodomo Shokudo, but what we want to create is a place where we can communicate with local grandparents and provide meals made from vegetables from farmers. The children will be able to learn many things, and the grandparents will be energized by the children. And if the farmers provide the food, the children will be able to eat delicious vegetables, and the farmers will be happy to see them. I believe that if there is such a connection where we provide happiness to each other, we can create the kind of place I envision as a children’s cafeteria. For this reason, I feel it is important to cherish the relationships we have with the people in the community today. Of course, it would be wonderful if we could do this in many different areas, but in consideration of practical aspects, we have set our goal as being in the vicinity of Mitaka and ICU.

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