Weird things about Japan #7:
Kids in Japan have school lunches called kyushoku and they are, in my opinion, one of the strangest facets of Japanese school life. I opted into them so I get to eat lunch with the kids every day.
After fourth period, delegated kids go and pick up their lunch from the big room it gets delivered to. Other kids move the desks in their classrooms around to form little dining tables, with little tablecloths on each desk. The kids who are serving put on aprons and sanitary facemasks and start ladling the food into bowls and distributing them.
When everyone has all the dishes, one child stands at the front and asks us all to put our hands together and say “itadakimasu” before we eat. After we finish, we must all say “gochisosamadeshita
The meals are huge, usually consisting of a massive bowl of rice, a soup, a main dish (meat and veggies), a snack and the daily bottle of milk. You must eat everything on your plate because wastage is not okay. I have no idea how these tiny kids finish their crazy big meals and sometimes go for extra.
My first day was curry rice which didn’t blow my mind too much, but the second day we had stew which we had to eat with hashi (chopsticks). The third day we had a bowl of whole fish which I had to man up and eat because the kids were watching closely.
Snacks have included a little sachet of tiny fish and slivered almonds, a juice box and an (individually wrapped) slice of pineapple. I must admit, for mass produced food which is often strange to me, it’s pretty delicious and healthy.
We are only given fifteen minutes to eat all that food—I’m getting pretty epic with my hashi—before we stack our (now empty) bowls in the rack at the front of class and put the classroom back how it was.
As with my actual classes, my lunchtime experiences have been varied. One lunchtime the kids found me using chopsticks so hilarious that they laughed the whole way through the meal. One group very solemnly helped me to eat by demonstrating which bowl to put which sauce on, how to use a spoon, and—embarassingly—putting the straw into my juicebox for me. One group sat in silence for five minutes before giving up and speaking high-speed Japanese at me. Most of the kids are pretty happy to have me at their table, and enjoy speaking Japanglish with me and I really enjoy mucking around with them and disturbing their lunch hour.
The kids then brush their teeth (true story) before they are allowed out to play, and I escape to the office for a two minute breather before I join them.