Nighttime bakery works to tackle social issues

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The first outlet of the nighttime bakery operates beside Kamome Books, a bookshop near Tokyo Metro Kagurazaka Station in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on March 1

Three bread outlets in central Tokyo that are open only in the evening are aiming to prove that bread not only nourishes the body, but also the soul.

Named Yoru no Pan-ya san (nighttime bakery), the outlets are an initiative that aims to mitigate social problems such as unemployment and food loss.

Unsold bread baked with great care in popular Tokyo bakeries may be discarded. Rather than allowing that to happen, people who are having difficulties making a living for various reasons, including because of the coronavirus pandemic, pick up the discounted bread, which is likely to remain unsold, and deliver it to a nighttime bakery.

They then sell the bread for about the original price by the end of the day, and the profit is used to pay their wages and help them rebuild their lives and become independent.

The initiative was launched in October 2020 by Big Issue Japan, an organization founded in 2003 that creates jobs for the homeless to help them become independent. The organization has been promoting projects with homeless people selling magazines on the streets to help supplement their income. The Big Issue magazine first launched in 1991 in London.

The impetus of the initiative was a donation from a philanthropist, and it is modeled on a similar project underway in Hokkaido that aims to curtail food loss.

The first outlet of the nighttime bakery opened on Oct. 16, 2020, coinciding with the United Nations’ World Food Day, and two more opened thereafter.

The first one is located in front of a bookstore near Tokyo Metro’s Kagurazaka Station in Shinjuku Ward. It is open three days a week from 7 p.m. to about 9 p.m.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The second outlet sets up shop at the parking lot of an apartment building in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

The second outlet sets up shop at the parking lot of an apartment building in the Shin-Ogawamachi area in Shinjuku Ward, and it runs once a week from 5 p.m. to around 8 p.m.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Customers buy bread at the third outlet, which recently opened in Minato Ward, Tokyo.

The third is in front of a coffee shop near Tamachi Station in Minato Ward and is open twice a week from 6 p.m. to about 8 p.m.

All three close when the bread sells out.

“The fact is that some people have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. Another fact is that bread goes unsold every day,” said cooking specialist Nahomi Edamoto, who came up with the idea for the initiative. She cochairs Big Issue Japan Foundation, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Big Issue Japan.

“We wanted to fundamentally change the situation by bringing the two facts together in such a way that won’t cause people to feel bad about having or not having money,” she said.

“About 18 bakeries are now working with us,” Edamoto said. “I want to gradually and flexibly increase the number of days open and outlets, especially as an initiative to create jobs not only for men but also women.”

The Yomiuri Shimbu
A worker delivers bread by bicycle to the Kagurazaka outlet.
The Yomiuri Shimbu
A worker leaves the Tamachi outlet after taking the train to deliver bread.

The breads that are sold differ each day, and that information is posted on social media. Customers can visit one location to try a variety of products from bakeries they usually don’t go to.

“I come here almost every week,” said a woman in her 40s, who was at the Tamachi outlet. She did not go to the first outlet in Kagurazaka because it is too far, but since she learned on Twitter that the third outlet had opened near her office, she has been a regular customer.

“It’s not just about enjoying the different breads from various bakeries. I’m also glad that I can make a small contribution to reducing food loss by buying them for the original price, not a discounted price,” she added.

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