No25 [Eating] Time to eat!


Time to eat!

In Japan, one learns at a very young age that food is a serious matter. Maeda Haruyo takes us back to school.

There are few children in Japan who do not enjoy kyushoku, and we all have good or bad memories of it. Kyushoku is the term used in Japan for the meals provided by primary schools. I paid a visit to Ikeshima shogakko, where my 10 year old son goes, to see how they eat their lunch. At around 11.45, meals are brought in from the town kitchens, and the pupils can find out what is on the menu each day by looking at a noticeboard. Today it is vegetable soup, potato salad, cheese, two slices of white bread and milk. For children who don’t like milk, a poster was specially made by one of the pupils encouraging them to empty their glasses. There are also a few posters about “food education”. The school does not have a dedicated dining hall and pupils eat in their own classrooms. Half of the children are designated as “kyushoku gakari” (lunch monitors) and put on white gowns and masks to hand out the meals, fetching the food from the main serving room along with their teachers. In this room, meals, dishes and cutlery are arranged separately for each class, and the kyushoku gakari each take their own. Returning to their classrooms, they dish out the food onto plates under their teacher’s supervision, before handing them out to their classmates. While the kyushoku gakari are doing this, the others talk or read as they wait. The children bring their own napkins to use as place mats and use chopsticks or spoons, depending on the dish. Once everyone has settled down, they all say “Itadakimasu” (thank you for the food) together, and no sooner have they started eating than some children are already asking for seconds. Yes indeed, they’re all growing up so fast! The kyushoku is always a very joyful time, and the teacher also settles down to eat with her pupils. The children have twenty minutes to finish their meal, clear the table and stack the dishes. At the end of the meal the kyushoku gakari take the dishes back to the main serving room. After kyushoku, the children clean their classroom and even the toilets! In Japan, learning shared community values starts as early as primary school!

Maeda Haruyo