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Tucked away in a small basement in Tokyo’s “book town” area of Jimbocho (also referred to as Jinbocho), is the homely teishokuya (set meal) eatery Mirai Shokudo, a restaurant with an altruistic twist.
This cozy traditional restaurant runs on a makanai system, which means that as an alternative to paying in cash, customers may trade labor for a meal. It’s a common system used in restaurants throughout the nation as a way to reward and provide for hard-working employees.
Since opening in 2015, Mirai Shokudo has offered customers the chance to work 50-minute lunch shifts in exchange for a makanai meal. Founded by software-engineer-turned-restaurateur Sekai Kobayashi, the idea behind Mirai Shokudo was to create a space where everyone can find a welcoming place to sit and enjoy a hearty home-style meal, no matter their financial situation.
What exactly do you get in exchange for working? The menu changes regularly, but on a typical day, customers can expect a meal comprised of a main dish (typically meat or fish), along with Japanese staples miso soup, tsukemono pickles, and all-you-can-eat rice, which is self-served. Adhering to the Japanese concept of omotenashi (accommodating the customer’s wishes) customers can make food requests, and the restaurant will do its best to fulfil them. The meal is simple and delicious and provides plenty of energy for the upcoming 50 minutes of work.
Customers must first have a meal at the restaurant before they can sign up for a shift. Those who want to work for their meals are asked to arrive 10 minutes early to get a run down of how the restaurant works and to change into the restaurant uniform, complete with a classic Japanese chef bandana known as a hachimaki. Then, they can typically expect to work the lunchtime shift, taking orders and clearing, or after closing washing dishes. There’s always plenty to be done.
At Mirai Shokudo, there isn’t a typical worker. Since opening, the restaurant has welcomed a range of short-term employees, including university students, amateur cooks, and those interested in gaining some first-hand experience before making the leap into the hospitality industry. Tourists and other non-residents are also more than welcome to work a shift. Those interested can get online to find the details (in English). Many of the staff speak fluent English, as well.
Those who are feeling particularly generous may work for a tadameshi ticket (free meal ticket) to leave by the entrance for someone else to use who might not be able to work or afford a meal otherwise.
101-0003 Tokyo, Chiyoda, Hitotsubashi, 2 Chome−6−2, 日本教育会館
Hours: 11am-10pm. On Tuesdays, the restaurant closes at 3:00pm
Closed: Sundays, Mondays and National Holidays.