Friday, November 6, 2009

School Lunch

...and why I still love it.

About half the time, I don't know what I'm eating in this country. Once again, "Thank goodness I have neither allergies nor scruples," right? I have a tendency to eat whatever is put in front of me in Japan for two reasons. The first is, I have very little hope of knowing what it is ahead of time. The other is, if they say it's food, they must have eaten it before, and by golly that's good enough for me.

Especially school lunch, because, I mean, they're feeding that stuff to their kids.

School lunch has become a normal way of life for me by now.. its beginning celebrated chiefly because in the days without it, I was expected to bring my own lunch, and between catching the bus and forgetting my wallet, I was really bad at that.

But it bears mentioning that Japanese schools do not have lunchrooms (unless you count the little room where the staff eats at my school). Students eat in the classroom; they also serve the food.

When I first started eating school lunch, Big Brother JET would tease me and say that I better eat it all, or people would judge me. This was, of course, no problem ("Just wait for pregnant-fish day!" he says with relish), and still usually isn't. He'll know, though, when pregnantfish day occurs because we have the same food at his school and at mine. All the schools served by the same lunch center will have the same eats. The center delivers the food sometime in the late morning, and in pretty exact amounts from what I understand, with the right amounts of bowls and trays and chopsticks in each class's kit.

It's delivered each day to a special room full of warmers and fridges for holding until serving time. Then, the students assigned to food duty for the day go down in their aprons and masks and cart it on up, and dish it on out. We have to wait until everyone is served before we can begin eating.

I managed to snag a few photos one day when I was in elementary. Anytime I spent the whole day at elementary, they always would assign me to a class with whom to eat lunch. But I would always have to bring my lunch from the staff room (the bowl-counting thing, I guess), and bring the dishes back at the end.

I've been eating lunch with the students at the middle school now, too. I have a new schedule for eating.. it goes Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd years, respectively. Thursdays are make-up days, so if I missed one for some reason (like, they were out for swine flu, I had a cold, we didn't have school, etc.) I will go eat with that grade. Tuesdays are elementary school all day.

I felt really crass even just thinking about photographing my lunch in the staff dining room, and I even feel a bit chagrined at taking pictures in front of students. For some reason, though, it seemed okay in the 4th grade.

The blue thing at the right is the rice container. There is always rice. Okay, well almost always. This one day there wasn't rice, and we had rolls instead, and I was like "OMG this isn't even lunch where is the riiiiice" ... also, please note the cuteness of these 4th graders.

Okay. So here is the layout of every single lunch (excepting that weird no-rice day):
First and most important is the rice. This happens to be rice with pickled plum mixed in, but it's usually just plain rice. Sometimes there is stuff in it, like mushrooms,, or tiny little fish still whole, or little pieces of vegetables (or, let's be honest, I really don't know what's in my rice, I just eat it). Then to the right, there is a bowl. It's always got something.. sometimes, it's soup (today it was some kind of cream of both potato and mushroom at the same time--so good, and with carrots and stuff), sometimes a kind of noodles dish, whatever. It's got something from every food group, pretty sure. In the center at the top is the greens-and-piece of meat. This time it is a chicken wing, but it's more often some kind of fish. The greens are usually some kind of cold vegetable concoction (today's included chicken, so kind of like a chicken salad..?). Usually, the milk is on the right instead of the left, and yeah that's whole milk (aka, "fat milk", haha). The apple down front is an anomaly.. they actually took it away from me after I took the photo when the kid passing out the apples realized I had gotten one already from the staff room. But the piece of fruit is the dessert.

Basically, school lunch is high in calories and sometimes not delicious, but it IS full of all kinds of nutrients (I assume.. it looks and tastes that way, anyhow. Again, all of this is guesswork for me), and I pretty much depend on it as a staple of my existence. Well, that and dinner by Osaki-san on Wednesday nights. And with a few exceptions, I've eaten all of my lunch every day! Big Brother failed on the chicken liver day. Haha.. some of us are from the SOUTH.

I hesitated a bit the day I asked "how do I eat this?" expecting instruction on how to remove the head and tail of the fish.. and the teacher told me to bite the head off, for starters. ...But hell, if they say it's food, it must be! Heads n' all.


  1. That school lunch looks far superior to the years of American fare I ate.

  2. You never were a picky eater, even when you were little. I never thought to feed you fish heads though...