All About Japan

The Secrets of Japanese School Lunch

| Japanese Food , Video

If you've ever taught at a Japanese elementary school, this video is sure to bring back memories! School lunch, or kyushoku, is an institution in Japan, with kids in elementary and junior high school receiving healthy, balanced meals at school every day. While kyushoku isn't quite a full ichiju-sansai, "one soup, three dishes" meal, the principles are all there: you'll typically see soup and rice complimented by one or two other dishes—though there are also plentiful curry rice and bread days as well!

Made in collaboration with the Saitama City School Fund and the Health Education Division of Saitama's Department of Education, in this video we follow fifth grader Yui to her elementary school in Saitama City. First off is a check of the contents of her kyushoku bag: a luncheon mat, chopsticks, a tooth brush, a tooth brushing cup and a handkerchief, all of which she brings to school every day.

We also tour the school kitchen, where five staff prepare 720 meals from scratch, using potatoes the grade 6 students raised in the school farm. Lunch today consists of fried fish with pear sauce, vegetable soup and mashed potatoes. While this school prepares all of its own lunches, in some areas larger schools will act as suppliers and distribution centers for smaller schools nearby, or they might pool resources in a kyushoku center.

The best part is the delivery system, and how the students pick up and distribute their own meals—including a hearty and genuine "thank you" for the people who cooked for them. You can see how kids will determine who gets any leftover food (listen for jan-ken-pon!) and how they prepare their milk packs for recycling (it'll be a little different from school to school, and depending on the shape of the milk packs).

Finally, watch how all the students work together to clean the school every day! If you haven't been in an elementary school in a while, this is definitely natsukashii! ("Brings back memories.")