Inside Japanese Kindergarten Lunches

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Today it was my turn to help give out lunches at Owen’s school. Two moms each day go in and assist for 2 hours. Finally — my curiosity abated! I found out what happens at Japanese school lunches! We do get a calendar every day of what will be in the lunches. But the system? Somehow the school of 150 or so preschool/kindergarteners manages to feed all the kids lunch, in their rooms, and clean up, with only two volunteer moms. Here’s how:

First, the 2 moms show up, wearing aprons and bandanas in our hair (Love the fashion statement! aprons out of the photo, but really there):
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Then, we carry boxes containing smaller lunch boxes to each classroom, where the children are waiting at low tables and chairs, with their individual lunchmats, cup, and chopsticks laid out in front of them. (Owen is in top right)
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Students all put their hands behind their backs, and the teacher goes around and sprays each hand with anti-bacterial spray. Half of the days students get milk for lunch; days like today the volunteer moms pour cold barley tea into each cup.
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The teachers are overseeing each classroom (no lunch breaks for them!)…and what has surprised us are the reports that all the children eventually pretty much eat all their lunch. Owen came home from school one day and announced that he now likes onions. Amazing what they can end up liking after the variety they get in their lunches. Here was today’s:
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(clockwise from rice: raw shredded cabbage and macaroni salad; one big fried scallop; a fish-dough ball; and spinach and tuna salad). Whatdayathink?
Next surprise: lunch, from beginning to end, is LONG… ittakes almost 1 1/2 hours… until every child has finished their lunch and cleaned up. Then- it’s playtime!
No lunch ladies (except for bandana mamas). No lunch rooms. (No pizza on fridays!) But it works. I continue to feel like our experiences at kindergarten give us so much insight into Japanese culture. From early on, Japanese children are taught order, cooperation, submitting to authorities, doing many rituals in certain, prescribed ways. Eric saw a documentary on Japanese preschool that explained that all Japanese children learn the exact method of how to take a bath, including scrubbing order and methods. Just like Owen is learning how to “do lunch.” And it works! (Owen with his buddies, after lunch, is on the right).
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2 thoughts on “Inside Japanese Kindergarten Lunches

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