The Students of Waseda University Are on a Mission to Save the Restaurants They Love
They're helping the affected restaurants survive the pandemic.
Musashino Abura Gakkai Waseda Sohonten
1-18-12, Nishiwaseda, Shinjuku District, Tokyo
Open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. daily
How to get there: It’s a 1-minute walk from Waseda Station (Tokyo Sakura Tram)
You’ll find Waseda University in the city of Waseda in Shinjuku District. With over 50,000 students, the city has been developing alongside the uni students for many years now.
The restaurants in Waseda, Japan's most famous student district, are now in a difficult situation. In order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus infection, Waseda University has transitioned all classes online this semester, which has led to a sharp drop in the number of students coming to the restaurants.
Under the difficult circumstances that the restaurants could be closed or go bankrupt, Waseda University students have launched a project called Mirai (“Future” in literal translation) Wase-meshi (“Foods in Waseda” in literal translation) Pay to support the restaurants in Waseda.
We interviewed the founder of the project, Yusuke Futamura, a 4th year student at Faculty of Education, Waseda University, and Kakuhata, the owner of the Abura-soba (“Oil-noodle” in literal translation. Japanese style noodle bowl without soup) restaurant Musashino Abura Gakkai Waseda Sohonten loved by the students of Waseda University.
Wase-meshi, which Waseda University students used to eat on a daily basis, is now in danger of disappearing
Sales have fallen below half. This is the severe situation of Wase-meshi and restaurants in Waseda. To what extent has the spread of the new coronavirus infection actually affected restaurants?
As closings and bankruptcies of stores and facilities are often seen around Japan, some Waseda restaurants, which are familiar to students of Waseda University and called Wase-meshi, have also been closed. At the Musashino Abura Gakkai Waseda Sohonten, for the time being, sales were down by more than 50-70% from the normal year. Furthermore, the future of the restaurants is still unclear.
Musashino Abura Gakkai Waseda Sohonten is an Abura-soba restaurant that has been loved by students of Waseda University for many years
“Although sales in office districts are recovering, the main customer of Musashino Abura Gakkai Waseda Sohonten is clearly students, so management of the business is difficult while the university is closed,” says Kakuhata in pain. With the cancellation of the emergency declaration in Japan, the number of customers is expected to recover at the restaurants in the office districts, but at the restaurants in Waseda, which is a student district, if the university does not open again, a significant recovery in sales cannot be expected. The restaurants in Waseda have been developed with students, and it was in a predicament because there were no students coming to the restaurants.
Masterpiece with a harmony of special sauce and thick noodles
Futamura, a student of Waseda University and living alone in the city of Waseda, strongly felt that the familiar restaurants in Waseda were in danger of permanent closure amidst the huge pressure of self-restraining that comes with the declaration of emergency. Against this backdrop, he wondered what he could do to protect restaurants in Waseda, where he had been always having meals.
Mirai Wase-meshi Pay saves the restaurant with the promise of future meals
In April, Futamura opened an account on Twitter named "Waseda Students Save Wase-meshi!" He announced that he was preparing a system to support restaurants in Waseda, while calling for dissemination of the information to people such as OBOGs of the university.
Mirai Wase-meshi Pay was born. Mirai Wase-meshi Pay is a project to save restaurants during the period before the class resumption of the university by selling meal tickets in advance using the LINE Pay system. He wanted to help, even for a small amount, to pay for maintenance, such as rental costs, which would be a heavy burden on a restaurant with a significantly reduced number of guests.
“Actually, Mirai Wase-meshi Pay is not an idea that I put out,” says Futamura. “I went around each restaurant thinking that there should be something I could do, and the restaurant side gave me this idea.”
The restaurant side, which received his consultatio, also took this proposal because the restaurants wanted to firmly understand what the students had thought of. Coming from this discussion, Mirai Wase-meshi Pay is a joint effort by students and restaurants in Waseda. This is a very simple system where you can register the LINE of the restaurant you want to support as a friend and place an order on the talk screen of LINE. If you register for LINE Pay in advance, you can finish your order in about 1-2 minutes.
Image of the actual order on LINE. Completed in less than 2 minutes
The account of "Waseda Students Save Wase-meshi!" has exceeded 1,000 followers within a few days (*more than 2,000 as of June 29, 2020). Mirai Wase-meshi Pay was featured on the official LINE Pay account and was actively promoted on the accounts of participating restaurants. There were responses, and there were replies from not only active students but also people who seemed to be OBOGs of Waseda University. However, as a result, the impact was not significant.
“It was only for a week.” Kakuhata says that the response to Mirai Wase-meshi Pay almost stopped in a week. Futamura himself also found that Mirai Wase-meshi Pay did not make a significant financial contribution. Due to the nature of pre-payment for the next visit, it is difficult for the restaurants to earn continuous profits without the opportunity of students to visit the restaurants. In addition, the students are accused of not being able to take responsibility for various possible problems in the business. Therefore, it is difficult to expand the scale significantly.
Furthermore, old restaurants in Waseda are aging, and there are hurdles to introducing the idea of using electronic money. Will Mirai Wase-meshi Pay be sustainable in the end?
Students and restaurants. The future of Wase-meshi that both parties are thinking about
Mirai Wase-meshi Pay may seem to have ended with a temporary boom. However, it does not mean that the activity itself was meaningless.
Waseda students and restaurants tackle this difficult situation together
“On Twitter, there are reports that OBs and OGs bought tickets, and there are some customers who can't come to eat at the restaurant but still bought tickets,” said Futamura. Kakuhata also said, "even though it is difficult to come to Tokyo, there are many people who bought it with pure willingness."
"I'm happy if I can be mentally supportive. I realized that there are other things besides financial support," Futamura shares.
"It would be very helpful for the restaurant if you could give us your comments and opinions. I am happy that there are people who have a feeling for a restaurant," Kakuhata adds.
The words from both Futamura and Kakuhata signify that the support from each and every one is much appreciated especially during this difficult time. In addition, new ideas, such as delivery service and mail order, as well as searching for other ways to use LINE Pay, have been created that utilize the efforts so far, such as summarizing the initiatives that each restaurant has been doing. Indirectly, Mirai Wase-meshi Pay may have actually created a great impact.
Waseda University announced that it will continue online classes during the spring semester. Whether or not lessons will be held online after the fall semester is still undecided, but if it is decided that the fall semester lessons will be also held online, many restaurants will be in a very difficult situation. However, Kakuhata believes that the customers will return.
“Once people begin to move again, I believe that people will come to our restaurants naturally. It's no use mourning. I want to value each day and live together with everyone,” Kakuhata says.
The Mirai Wase-meshi Pay, which was developed by Waseda students together with the restaurants, seems like a step that will have a new impact on the future of Waseda. The Mirai Wase-meshi Pay service is still working. If you would like to support Waseda restaurants, please join the service. Let’s help ensure the future of the restaurants in Waseda.
Provided by Japan Walker™, Walkerplus™, and Tokyo Walker™ (03 July 2020)