Lunch here in northern Japan is very different from what I remember of my grade school lunches at Fernwood Elementary in Portland, Oregon in the 1970s.
I joined local school children for English time and lunch July 16 and 17, one week before summer vacation started. We had something fishy on Thursday and cold noodles on Friday.
Here are five of the many ways lunch at Seien Elementary School is different from Fernwood. How does your own grade school lunch experience compare?
1. Japanese students eat in their classrooms. They sit with other members of their own han, groups of 4-5 used for dividing classroom responsibilities and, more significantly, for developing teamwork in this “group-oriented” society. At Fernwood all classes descended on the auditorium and kids sat where they wanted.
2. All students at Seien School purchase their meals. At Fernwood we could bring lunch from home or buy at school, and could decide each day which to do.
3. Japanese kids eat a lot of rice. No big surprise, I know. At Seien in Sapporo they have rice every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Wednesdays are bread days; Fridays are noodle days. Even on bread days, though, there’s no bologna sandwich with banana and Tollhouse cookie like I remember.
4. They all start and finish together. The han in charge that day gives food announcements (like what’s available for seconds) and initiate the loud, unison itadakimasu that Japanese people everywhere say at the beginning of each meal.
5. Teachers eat with students. I’ve been to Seien before and noticed some teachers sit at their own desks and others pull up a chair and join one han of students.
Many years have passed since I was at Fernwood Elementary. Since then the name has changed three times and is now Beverly Cleary School, named after its most famous alumna. Perhaps many things about lunch there have changed, too.
What were you eating for lunch when you were in the 5th and 6th grades? Please leave your comments to share the when, where and what of your school lunch memories.
Elementary school lunch in Sapporo, July 2009.
Students bring a favorite handkerchief from home for a place mat.
Students eat in their classrooms with members of their "han" group.
After lunch students take their class's lunch cart to the cleaning area down the hall.
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