Hale Cafe
A Thursday night at Hale Cafe

Hale Cafe

We went to Hale Cafe Night! ハレカフェナイトに行ってきた!


I didn't know what to expect from my first ever children's cafeteria (for those who don't know what a children's cafeteria is, go to the What? page). Would they feel uncomfortable with a new person? Would they treat me a little coldly? I was as nervous as I was jet-lagged from my 14-hour flight the night before.

The first stop in my journey was a cafe named Hale Cafe, located around Funabashi city in the Chiba prefecture. I made Hale Cafe my first stop because I was well acquainted with its owner, Mr. Ushigaki, otherwise known as "Master", a name given to the heads of cafes or bars in Japan. Mr. Ushigaki was a crucial figure in my understanding of what children's cafeterias truly are, so I thought it was only fitting to go to his first... and truth be told, it was better for my nerves to go to a place with a familiar face.

At first glance, Hale Cafe is a normal cafe. Sure, their delicious french toasts and aesthetically pleasing atmosphere places the cafe higher than the average cafe. Even so, you would think it was a typical cafe until you realize that they close their shop early on Thursdays to prepare for their weekly children's cafeteria.

Hale Cafe prides itself on being a cafe that helps relieve some of the struggles of parenthood. The owner, Mr. Ushigaki, is a former government worker who used to manage the urban planning and infrastructure of the Kanagawa prefecture, and you can tell from the way he built his cafe. From the cafe's play area and baby care room, to the different parent-child events that they hold, Hale Cafe strives to create a community that makes parents and children alike feel safe and welcome. I could immediately tell how much he and his other volunteers/workers make sure that the cafe's community is a safe space for everyone. Their children's cafeteria on Thursday nights is merely just a portion of this larger goal.

Every Thursday from 6:00PM, they have "Hale Cafe nights" where they hand out cheap and nutritious meals for adults and children. Once a month, they take their Hale Cafe night to a community center nearby to handout handmade bento boxes (boxed meals), with fun activities that the children can do in the play area. This once a week schedule is much more often than average children's cafeterias, and they can have this type of schedule because they do not need to rent out new spaces constantly nor have a lack of volunteers/donations. Hale Cafe actually prides themselves on having over 220 Hale Cafe nights consistently so far.

I was lucky enough to have visited on a special Thursday that the cafe rented out a community center. I was able to take a look at the different aspects of their children's cafeteria, especially the activity that the children were doing in the other rooms. They were intensely making decorations and hanging their wishes on the bamboo tree as part of Tanabata, the 7th of July where it is said in Japanese folklore that if you put your wish on the bamboo tree your wish will come true. A girl was so excited to share her finished masterpiece with me.

The meal was Tanabata themed and was a mixture of rice, beef, eggs, and other nutritious ingredients that were prepared by the volunteers beforehand. They also handed out fruit punch, snacks, and sanitary items, which were donated by nearby markets, farmers, and IKEA (who knew IKEA Japan was so supportive). The children and parents were so excited to take the amazing-looking food that honestly made my own stomach rumble.

The volunteers had shown up much earlier than 6:00PM, some even a little after lunch, to help set up the spaces and make the meals. I was first nervous to intervene in their, what looked like,  sacred bento-making process. However, they handed me an apron and I was sucked in as one of the volunteers. The volunteers could be described as a small community inside the larger Hale Cafe community. They were all very young, ranging from 9th grade to university students, and they were all so excited to be in the company of one another. I could easily tell that they all grew up together, helping support a community that they care deeply about.

Before taking a look at what Hale Cafe's children's cafeteria looks like, Mr. Ushigaki had agreed to a quick interview with him. I will never forget when he  defined a children's cafeteria as, "a source of happiness". As cheesy as it was (sorry Mr. Ushigaki) at the moment, it was true. Children's cafeterias, at least the one at Hale Cafe, is a source of happiness, not just for the children who get to have a second place to call home with lots of good food, but for the parents, the volunteers, and the community. Hale Cafe is a place where parents can confide in one another about the struggles of parenthood, where volunteers can gain a bit of wisdom from the adults at the cafeteria, and where a group of people can come together to support one another under the guise of helping children get nutritious food. It's so weird, yet wonderful how the idea of cheap, but good food can tie people so close together.

A volunteer, who had volunteered there for around 3 years, had told me that it was a shame that people minimize children's cafeterias as a place for children because to him, it was a community for everyone. I think in a busy generation like today, where we're losing so many people that we can actually lean on, a welcoming place like Hale Cafe is so crucial. If it's any indication of how welcoming they were, I, an outsider who was jet-lagged out of her mind with broken Japanese, felt like a part of the community. They had even given me one of the bento boxes to eat. It was a carefully planned meal that was nutritious as it was delicious, and it tasted much more delicious seeing the children, volunteers, and parents so happy.

Please go check Hale Cafe out on their website and social media accounts. I also put their address in the Where? page, so if you are in the area, it is definitely worth going (try their french toasts). If you want to contact them for any questions regarding volunteering, donations, or any inquiries, their email will be listed below.

Now go check them out!


ハレカフェ - 子育てをみんなの力で!子どもたちの笑顏あふれるまちづくり


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