Asameshi Syokudo
– A tasty community business for a healthy community -

Asameshi Syokudo is a restaurant located in a town called Asamushi, a historical hot spring town along side the sea in Aomori prefecture, the Northern city of Japan. It was opened in 2003 and run by a NPO called Iki Iki Asamushi. ‘Iki Iki’ means lively, active, full of life, in English and the name shows its vision to support community’s well-being.

NPO Iki Iki Asamushi
When Dr. Ichiki returned to Asamushi town from Tokyo and inherited his father’s clinic in 2000, he was shocked with the changes of the town. Compare to his childhood, population and local activities were declined. He made a strategy to renew his father’s clinic in order to better serve the community health, as well as to start a NPO for community development activities.

Health problem in Asamushi
Like many other rural area in Japan, Asamushi has shrinking and aging population. The population is 1877 in 2005, with 783 men and 1094 women. Among them, 892 people are more than 60 years old. There are many elderly women who live alone, as they used to work for the tourism industry. Dr. Ichiki found that their health condition is heavily depending on their eating habit, and many single elderly person do not eat properly. Place to eat with other people with healthy and balanced diet is necessary for their health.

Menu of Asameshi Syokudo
The restaurant is open for lunch everyday except Sunday and serves healthy meals. It has three kinds of menu; 1) Daily special, 2) Weekly special, 3) Special dish called ‘Potato Suiton’. The picture on the left shows a sample of the Daily special, which has main dish, rice, miso-soup, vegetable, pickles and desert. It cost only 500 yen.
The restaurant has a special recipe from Mrs.Moriyama who won the prize from the local food competition. The local food competition was organized in 2003 by the NPO Iki Iki Asamushi. The quality and variety of dishes, which local people particularly grandmas, brought were amazing and shows rich local tradition and love to their own food culture. After the local food competition, the NPO decided to start the restaurant to revive and utilize this food culture for health promotion.

Management of Asameshi Syokudo
In normal days, about 40 people come to eat lunch at the restaurant. Patients and elderly people who visit the clinic, workers in nearby companies and families are customers. The restaurant provides balanced diet with affordable price while being a successful community business. Thus, the management made effort to economize operation, utilize funding opportunities, and improve services in order to attract many customers. At the beginning, the NPO got a funding support from the ‘venture project fund’ by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and it is equipped with second hand furniture and equipment.
It also cooperates with the Ichiki clinic for publicity and feed back among patients. At the clinic, restaurant news and photo of the Today’s special menu is presented everyday. It serves also as a community place, for elderly people to meet with others. When a regular customer does not show up, restaurant staff try to make sure that they are ok. The restaurant also has a lunch box delivery service for those who can not come. “The trust from the local people is essential for successful activities” Ms. Mikami, the general secretary of the NPO said.
The restaurant also creates employment opportunity for local women and men, which is important for community to be sustainable. The NPO employs 8 staff for the restaurant. The staff develop menu, improve kitchen, communicate with customers, and enjoy working.
The NPO Iki Iki Asamushi’s activities have been expanding. In 2005, the NPO started an agricultural farm to produce organic vegetables to be served at the restaurant. The publication of an original recipe book for local food promotion, cooking classes in community school and conservation program of firefly are all started by the NPO with local people’s participation. There are also several joint activities of NPO and the Ichiki clinic, such as ‘healthy tour’. The ‘healthy tour’ package includes health check up at the clinic, programs such as hiking in the local mountains, and balanced diet program at Asameshi Syokudo. In 2006, Dr. Ichiki and Ms. Mikami established a company in order to run the Healthy Inn Asamushi, which is a hotel with 15 rooms and hot spring.

New model for community business
As seen above, the NPO and the clinic work hand in hand for well being of the local community. Through the activities, they try to create a place, where local people can enjoy tasty food, have a fun and feel happy. The entry point was a restaurant which started from careful observation of elderly people’s life and health problems. But as seen above, the activity does not end there, and continues to grow according to local resources and needs. It shows a new model for NPO which try to support community through community business and action. Let us again look at our own community and see what is there and what we can do.

Report by Satoko Kono (i-i-Network)

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