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School Lunch

IMG_1580All you ever wanted to know about School Lunch in Japan.

School Lunch is provided for a very reasonable fee to all elementary and junior high school students (and staff) in Japan. Students eat in their homeroom classroom together with their homeroom teacher. Everyone eats school lunch (kyushoku 給食) because of its convenience and low cost, but occasionally an ALT will opt out because A: They are vegetarian / can’t eat pork, etc. or B: They don’t like most Japanese food. (I don’t get it, really, what’s wrong with you people?)

They don’t like to throw away school lunch leftovers, so you’ll be expected to eat everything on your tray (if you know you don’t like something, just don’t take it/give it to someone else). Any leftovers from the serving pots will be divvied out (sometimes by rock paper scissors). The situation will be different every day depending on what packaged and unfinished food there is. Usually there will be a teacher or staff breaking out the plastic wrap to make onigiri (rice balls) if there is any left over rice.



Today lunch was kind of big – I don’t usually put the food into the dishes by myself, which means sometimes I get a huge bowl of rice and sometimes it’s around half full. There was a tangerine included, but I was so full I just brought it home. Easy. Sometimes I do the same with packaged bread or other wrapped foods and sauces.

Some schools have a pile of leftover packaged foods in the teachers room and offer them to staff to take home or keep in the fridge for snacking on later. Teachers are really busy and are always happy to have something easy to eat later on. You won’t really see students taking anything home, so anything that they don’t eat will get taken to the teachers’ room or the company providing the school lunch will take it with the dishes and containers of food. If there is leftover food after everyone has been served, it’s usually fair game if you want it – just ask to be polite. Same goes for if you’re full but there’s a bunch of really tasty (insert whatever food you want to take home) and you have a container or there are some bags/plastic wrap around. Just ask if you can take it home. Otherwise it’s thrown out, so it’s a good way to save a little money. My previous school was really good about making someone take all the leftovers, but I’m really not sure if some schools will think that’s rude or weird.

What if I really hate ~?

It happens, you don’t know what it is, you try it, and you realize it tastes like dirty socks and you can’t eat another bite (yes I’m talking about natto). Try to avoid it in the future and after everyone is done, put it back into the container it came from. (rice, soup, and side dishes will be in different pots or containers – a set for each room.) If there is something on your tray you know you won’t eat, it’s okay to put some back or offer it to someone else before you start eating. (Or putting it on a student’s tray when they aren’t looking to make the other students laugh, that’s fun too.) Chances are, if you don’t want something, there is someone else who is going to be stoked to get more.

Students are expected to eat everything, even if they don’t like it. There aren’t many picky eaters in Japan. Most students will tolerate something they don’t like or pinch their nose, but lots of students give things they don’t like to someone else who will eat it.

Being able to ask, “What is this?” (これなあに?) in Japanese is helpful, but practicing with students is good for them. “What is this? Do you like ~?” Easy enough for most levels to understand.

I don’t drink milk. At my previous school, they put milk on my tray every day anyway. Every day I gave it to one of the English teachers and he drank two cartons of milk. Haven’t liked the stuff since I was a kid.

Kyushoku can be over 1000 calories

Did you know that? It’s the biggest meal of the day for me. Students all walk or ride bikes to elementary and junior high school, work really hard all day, plus get lots of exercise playing. They burn those calories in most cases, and you will too if you are walking or riding a bike a lot. Even eating that much on a regular basis (in addition to a good breakfast and light dinner, plus way more snacks than I eat in the states), I am a good five pounds (about 2 kilo) lighter in Japan, without even trying. It could be going up and down stairs all day?

Quick History

Kyushoku started when Japan decided to do what European countries were doing to provide for the welfare of their country’s children. Later, because of food shortages in Japan after World War 2, the US military brought food. Japanese students ate bread and drank (powdered skim) milk, when those things were not a part of daily life in Japan yet. Since 1954, most elementary and junior high schools are required to provide school lunches. In 1976, rice was served as part of school lunch sometimes, while other days included bread or noodles. Usually school lunch includes locally grown and produced foods when possible, although the cost of kyushoku is low and local products are usually more expensive than imported foods.

If you work in a high school, there is no kyushoku. There is sometimes a school cafeteria but students are free to bring a lunch or go out and get lunch for their break, which is around 45 minutes long.


2 comments on “School Lunch

  1. Pingback: Have You Ever Paid Bills at Convenience Stores? | helloalissa

  2. Pingback: The Result of the Interview | helloalissa

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This entry was posted on March 23, 2016 by in Living in Japan, Teaching English and tagged .

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