Culture · Culture Shock · Education · Elementary School Education · Information · Jr. High School Education · Living in Japan · Teaching


School lunch. It is one of those things that you take for granted. Who doesn’t want food given to them? What mother doesn’t want to not have to make a lunch box for their child every morning? I’d venture to say that most of you Americans out there do not have fond memories of your school lunch. At my elementary/jr. high school in Santa Cruz, California, we did not have a cafeteria or a real school lunch per say. Instead, we had “hot lunches” about three times a week brought in from some local restaurants/fast food places. Not everyone ate these hot lunches (maybe because parents could not afford it or the meals did not look appealing) and I remember only two of the meals: greasy and over-sauced pizza and raviolis in a really rich cream sauce. The other days, it was my mom’s job to make me a lunch in my Mulan lunch box. I was never really excited nor concerned about eating my lunch. I was always more excited to eat as fast as I could so I could start enjoying my recess. “Hot lunch” was just an option for those interested.
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your average school lunch.
Japan, well, it’s a little different. In Japan, 99% of elementary school students and 82% of junior high school students eat 給食(kyūshoku), or school lunch.For Japanese students, not eating school lunch with your classmates is not an option. Everyone has to eat the same meal together. Parents pay 250 to 300 yen per student for the cost of the ingredients, with labor costs being funded by the local government or Institute of Education. Per month, eating school lunch every day at school cost me less than it does to make dinner every night. I pay less than 4000 yen (about $40) each month. Usually, all meals provided on a given day are identical for all pupils of a Japanese school, but the schools are in a sort of rotation. According to the lunch menu handed out (see below picture) my jr. high school (Hatsukari Cyūgakko) the school is in group B with all the other jr. high schools in Kawagoe. This means that elementary schools are on a different schedule, but you could see the same menu appear eventually.
Here is the menu for March.
The menu is planned by dieticians and changes daily. The average menu has gone through a large deal of change since the basic meals of the 1950s, as Japan grew economically. Each meal is carefully planned out to give children a balanced meal (although, myself and other AET’s have noted the lack of fruit). There is even a section of the menu that describes what foods “built muscle & growth,” “build power &heat,” and “are good for the body’s condition and brain.” Rice-based meals are served three times a week on average, with bread or noodles served on the other days. Fish is on the menu at least once a week, and many of the fresh vegetables served daily are organically grown. We also get a carton of fresh milk every day (this milk is extremely unpopular in the winter because of the cold. This means I never have to buy milk). Japanese are a protein and carb eating people, so I am almost always satisfied with my meal. These meals are also meant to educate children on making healthy choices in their own diet and are encouraged to eat everything. One of my elementary schools has “class champion” which means students who eat all their lunch. Special points are given to you if you hate the food you ate, but ate it anyway because it shows that you are willing to endure for good health – or something like that.
According to one Japanese website, kyūshoku began in 1889 at a private school in Yamagata Prefecture as a lunch for poor children. During WWII, kyūshoku had to take a rest due to the war effort. After the war – which brought near-famine conditions to Japan – the provision of school lunches was re-introduced in urban areas, but with nearly no nutrition at all. However, American troops provided skimmed milk powder and later flour for kyūshoku. Kyūshoku was extended to all elementary schools in Japan in 1952 and, with the inaction of the School Lunch Law, to junior high schools in 1954.
The very first school lunch in Japan consisted of rice balls, salmon, and pickled vegetables (see above picture). To this day, salmon appears in kyūshoku very frequently but is listed on the top ten things school children do not like. According to another site I translated, here are the most like foods:
1) Curry カレー
2) Ramen ラーメン
3) Agepan (fried bread, but is more like a doughnut) 揚げパン
4) Udon noodles うどん
5) Salad サラダ
6) Spaghetti スパゲティ
7) Hamburg “steak” ハンバーグ
8) Fruits 果物
9) Fruit punch フルーツポンチ
10) White rice 白飯
And here are the top ten least favorites:
1) Salad サラダ
2) Bread パン
3) Soup/miso soup スープ・汁物
4) Nimono (stewed dishes) 煮物
5) Itamemono (stir fry) 炒め物
6) Tsukemono (pickled things) 漬物
7) Aemono (green vegetable side dishes) 和え物
8) Agemono (fried things) 揚げ物
9) Natto (fermented soy beans) 納豆
10) Noodles めん
Now, I do not have many things to complain about kyūshoku, but sometimes there are things that I am just unable to eat. Such as whole fried tiny fish with the heads still attached…I don’t want my food looking at me. Here are some highlights and low lights from my kyūshoku thus far in 2009.

This is a favorite at my school. It is coco fried bread.
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These are those fish I just talked about…also, the wakame rice has so much salt in it. Not a meal that I usually finish.
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The chicken was not too bad…but notice how there are almonds in the batter mix? It was interesting, but pretty delicious.
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Those white thin things are actually fish paste. Ew.
So, I think I will leave my kyūshoku adventure there for now. I am planning on making monthly posts with “This Month in Kyūshoku” as the theme, so be watching for that.


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