Did you know that in Japan, there are several restaurants where you can eat Japanese-style school lunches? It’s actually quite popular as tourists can sample a bit of Japanese life and the locals can relive their school days. Like many things in Japan, school lunch has its own history and culture! What makes Japanese school lunch so different?
Japanese school lunches, or kyushoku, have been provided to students since 1889. A school that was being run by Buddhist monks started to offer meals to children of impoverished families. While the lunches were first free, in modern times, the lunch is paid for by the student’s parents or guardian. In some schools, kyushoku is also mandatory during elementary and junior high as it’s considered a part of education. Student’s learn about nutrition, where their food comes from, and also team work as the student’s serve their classmates!
An English teacher living in Japan documented 10 days of school lunches on his blog, The Japan Guy!
Check his post here: Ten Days of Japanese Public School Lunch
The first school lunch menu was simple: onigiri, grilled salmon, and picked vegetables. Now, the menu has expanded greatly and students get to try new dishes each day! While most of the menu is based off traditional Japanese cuisine, in recent times, international influences have also been appearing! It’s not uncommon to see naan and curry, Chinese food, or pasta on the menu.
Kyushoku typically consists of five parts: a carb (bread, rice, or noodles), a protein (fish, meat or tofu), soup, vegetables, and a drink. Sometimes the menu will include a dessert as well! Japanese lunches are focused on nutrition and have a very home-coked quality to them as most of the dishes are cooked right at the school. The drink served with lunch is usually milk; never juices or soft drinks.
The first school lunch from 1889 compared to an example of a typical lunch from 2000 at the Gakko Kyushoku Historical Musem.
You can visit a museum that has displays of typical school lunches starting from the original in 1889, all the way to 2000. The Gakko Kyushoku Historical Museum in Saitama even has replica classroom that you can sit in! This unique museum is perfect for those who interested in Japanese history as major events like wars and famine influenced school lunches through out the years. It’s amazing to see!
What did you eat for lunch during school? How does it compare to Japanese school lunch?