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

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