Food · School · School Lunch

Life of an ALT: Kyushoku (Japanese School Lunch)

I love Japanese food, and am not a particularly fussy eater (quelle surprise!)– but even so I found myself a little apprehensive when I signed up for ‘kyushoku’ – Japanese school lunches.
But so far I’ve been really pleasantly surprised. 

It tends to follow the same formula every day: soup, a carb (usually white rice but sometimes noodles or bread), some vegetables, meat or fish, a dessert and a carton of milk. 

It’s very affordable, especially for an ALT on a budget – it costs me around ¥360 or £3 per day, and it’s MUCH better than a Gregg’s meal deal. (I’m never going to be allowed back into Newcastle now after saying that, whoops).
And I even get a little discount because I don’t have the milk.

What’s really impressive though is that the kids serve the food themselves.

They dress up in little hygiene get-ups and face mask and haul heavy pans and trays from the kitchen to their classroom. (A little girl even did it one-handed yesterday when she stopped to wave at me).
I’d watched videos of the bairns serving kyoshoku before, but honestly seeing it in the flesh for the first time – my mouth was actually hanging open. 

It teaches the kids many things – responsibility, health, nutrition, cleanliness, social skills, teamwork etc. The students also learn where their food comes from.
I didn’t exactly experience such morality lessons during my school lunches in the UK with my cheese sandwich and packet of Skips. 

In my elementary school I have to eat with the kids from the previous class I’ve been teaching, which is fine however when I try to get them to speak, I get stared at like I have three heads.
They particularly enjoy watching me fumble with my chopsticks, especially when it’s something a bit fiddly like picking the bones out of fish – so it can be a bit disconcerting to have 30-plus pairs of eyes on you when you’re trying to eat in peace.

Also in elementary school, nobody is allowed to eat until everyone is seated, ready and there is a deafening cry of “ITADAKIMASUUUU”.
Which is nice, but I’m always served first and by the time the bairns have finished fannying on and everyone has sat down – my food is usually lukewarm at best.

Thankfully at my junior high school, I just eat in the teacher’s lounge sitting beside my favourite JTE. No prying eyes and I can have a blissful hour’s chill. 

So far it’s been a MOSTLY winning streak of food – but saying that I haven’t had to have natto yet.

Which is pretty good going, especially because you are expected to finish every single morsel on your plate.
As for me – there are some days where I simply can’t face white rice again, so I’m allowed to politely decline it on my plate. It’s when the food is served and on your plate you’re expected to eat it.
You’ll see the rice is mostly missing from the photos below, but that’s also because it’s served in a separate container and I simply forget to show it with the other food!
(Which is why some of the meals look a little stingy – it’s my bad!)

(Sorry if TMI but in my fourth week of living in Japan my stomach was so bloated with all the rice, I didn’t have it for a whole week with my kyoshoku.
One of the homeroom teachers noticed and said she was worried that I wasn’t enjoying my school lunches – but I just explained about my poor bowels. The lucky woman.)

However my junior high school is very relaxed, and my JTE told me on my first day that I don’t have to eat it all for whatever reason. I haven’t had to leave anything yet, though!

The following photos are mostly from my junior high school as I’m not allowed to get my phone out in front of the kiddiwinks, obviously. 

And now – for the only lunch I haven’t enjoyed yet:

Also just in case you missed this from my last post, this was the special o-bento lunch we ordered for the Sports Festival.
This was a little more expensive, around ¥850, but it was pretty good!

Before I came to Japan I enjoyed watching this mini feature about the history of kyushoku from NHK, it’s nice and short and I do recommend giving it a watch:

– Carla

school events

Life of an ALT: Battle Royale (aka: Sports Festival)

I’d been at my Junior High School for three weeks before the sports festival rolled around.
I knew this because it had been talked about around the clock ever since I arrived.

At first I wondered why there were so many PE teachers in the school, until the penny dropped and I realised it was just a case of everyone being really, really into the event.

Sports Day in the UK is a fairly tame affair – a few ordinary track and field events, then British traditions such as a beanbag race, egg and spoon race, mums and dad’s race etc.

(My school even had a thing called “Hoy The Welly” where you had to throw a wellington boot as far as you could. A bit like the shotput, but incredibly working class.)
Afterwards you got a juice and could usually go home early.

In Japan, this is not the case.

The bairns and teachers alike have been rehearsing for weeks.
It sounded halfway between a military operation, and a rock concert – a fairly legit sound system was installed a few days prior and I had to shout my lesson over the feedback.

On the morning of, it was due to kick off at 09:30am and when I rocked up at 8am as per usual everyone was running around like blue-arsed flies.
I was invited to go outside and watch everything being set up – and honestly it looked more like a village fete with huge gazebos and decorations.

The house colours – red, green, yellow and blue reminded me of Hogwarts and I instinctively rooted for the yellow team (I’m a Hufflepuff after all).

There was a grand opening ceremony, the school band came on and played the 20th Century Fox theme music.
The principal and vice principals went on stage for some speeches, then the head of houses (I think) came and did some sort of ceremony, saluting him.

The national anthem was played as the Hinomaru and school flags were raised.
As a British person I do have a soft spot for a bit of pomp and circumstance so was in my element.
(By this point in a UK school the kids would have been bored and fidgeting – and in my school a fight would have probably broken out already.)

Some more speeches from students who then lead the entire school in traditional radio taiso exercises. (Which always reminds me of Battle Royale.)

(Not my school!)

Then it was time for the games to begin.

The first half was mostly traditional track-and-field events – 100m, 500m, relay etc. There was a jump-rope event where about 20 students had to keep going for the longest.

There were others I recognised such as a three-legged race, and others that were incredibly random such as pushing huge rubber balls down the track, turning and running back.
I think that would be super popular in the UK and frankly needs to be an Olympic sport.

Special Chinese-themed obentos had been ordered for the occasion.
It was pretty good and a little more expensive than a regular school lunch at around ¥850.

Karaage, gyoza, egg fu yong, chop suey, squid.
White rice, pickled radish and orange chicken.

After lunch was the dance competition, which I was especially looking forward to – I love anything to do with performance!

To my surprise, my elementary school kids came to watch (it’s across the road from the junior high school), and my JTE explained this is an annual tradition.

Another surprise – I was invited to sit in the front row and judge the competition alongside the principal, elementary school principal and my deskmate JTE (she doesn’t have a homeroom class so can’t be biased).
I was given a clipboard and told to judge from 1 to 5 for things such as ‘timings’ ‘flow of movement’ etc.

I did however manage to cause a commotion – it only took one elementary kid to clock me (“AHHH! CARLA-SENSEI!!”) and their eyes practically popped out of their heads to see me somewhere other than their classrooms.

It took a lot of shushing from the poor homeroom teachers to get them to pipe down. And even so, they kept turning around to wave. 

The girls serving some AKB48 realness.

Judging was really, really difficult as all the bairns were amazing! Michelle Visage makes it look easy.

First the girls performed – all of who danced almost exclusively to a mash up of pop songs and anime opening numbers.
(I bumped the green team up a full mark for dancing to Kimi Ni 100% by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and a Japanese cover of Mickey by Toni Basil.)

I’m biased but I gave the yellow team full marks – their timing was impeccable and could give AKB48 a run for their money.

Then it was the boy’s turn – they all performed the same number, which made it much harder to judge.

It was a traditional Japanese dance called Sōran Bushi, the music of which was stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
It’s apparently an old sea shanty, and the dance mimics ocean waves, dragging nets, pulling ropes and hoisting luggage over their shoulders. 

I thought that would be the end of it – but there were still a few events to go.

The first was tug of war, and I really don’t know where they go their energy from.
(If this was me at my sports day I’d have bunked off by this point, on the hunt for a tuck shop.)

Then there was another random relay, but it seemed to be with four students from individual sports team – i.e.: four from the basketball, baseball, and soccer etc. teams. And instead of a baton they had to pass an item from their teams: i.e.: a basketball, baseball, soccer ball etc. It was very strange to see students in full baseball gear sprinting around a field.

Before long there was a closing ceremony, the flags were lowered and awards were handed out.
The scores were tallied up, and were announced by hanging numbers from a top floor window in the school building.

It was very dramatic – the blue team all cheered and cried and hugged as they were declared the champions.
All the other teams were very supportive, and clapped their friends on the back.
(Again at my school sportsmanship wasn’t really encouraged – another fight would have probably broken out.)

Sports Day here really isn’t about who wins and who loses, more so encouraging teamwork and camaraderie. I think if it was more wholesome like this in the UK I wouldn’t have played the wag quite so much. Perhaps.

Anyways by 4pm, it was time for my shift to end and after a nice loud should of “OSAKI NI SHITSUREISHIMASUUU” I ran home to get ready for the most more hotly anticipated event – the post-Sports Day enkai – aka: the teachers’ booze-up party which you can read all about here.

– Carla