05 February 2013

Diary of an ALT: School Lunch

Ah... school lunch. Known in Japanese as 給食 (kyuushoku) a.k.a a delicious, free, Japanese style lunch. (The kids and staff pay a pittance for it. I, on the other hand, eat free). In Ireland we didn't have school lunch. Our parents would pack us a sandwich, drink and a pack of crisps if we were lucky and kick us out the door. I vaguely recall a time when we were given either a carton of milk or orange juice with our lunch but I wasn't at school long before that was done away with. As I am not in school over lunch most days I don't eat with the kids very often but there is one school that I am given lunch at every time I'm there and another who like me so much they often invite me to stay until lunch and join them (smug face). A typical school lunch consists of a bowl of rice, a stew, soup or meat and vegetable combination, a small salad and a carton of milk.

Mmm... yum. Picture stolen from this blog dedicated solely to yummy Japanese school lunches
Every school lunch I've had, bar one, has been seriously, seriously tasty. The one in question had two whole fish on a plate coated in a green tea crust with the eggs still inside. When I look at my food I don't like it to look back at me.

At lunch time several kids in the class don white coats, hats and masks and dish out the meal to their classmates. If I'm eating with a class who like me they will janken (rock, scissors, paper) to try and win me for their table. I have no idea how they decide where I sit when they don't really care that I'm there. Perhaps the losers of janken have to take me? Before everyone tucks in one student will lead the class clapping their hands together prayer style and saying "Itadakimasu" which basically means "I humbly receive." Then it's chow time.

Eating with the kids can be a wildly different experience from class to class. Often they're quiet and shy and get really nervous if I ask them questions in English. They'll answer and then return to eating. This unfortunately is the norm and it can be difficult to get their attention. When this happens I just tuck into my lunch and ignore them right back. As Homer Simpson might say "Can't talk... eating". Then of course are the classes, seldom though they are, brimming with confidence and energy who spend the entire lunch chatting away to me either in whatever English they know, in Japanese once they twig that I speak a little or who spend the lunch trying to convince me to say naughty words in Japanese or teach them naughty words in English. More often than not the words they want to know are 'poo' and 'pee'. They will use gestures to elicit these words from me and I'll often just give them so they'll all stop pretending to go to the bathroom on the floor while I'm trying to eat. If I can't think of anything to say I'll sometimes give the kids at my table 3 hint quizes with vocabulary they know or else I'll just act like an idiot and make funny noises because, let's face it, they're kids and they're easily entertained. Once lunch is finished we clap our hands together again and with a chorus of "Gochisousama deshita!" (Thank you for the meal) the kids push their desks to the back of the room and play time begins. For me it's time to head back to the staff room and digest my deliciousness and relax.


  1. Food for mind. Gochisousama deshita. Arigatou qozaimasu.

  2. Ah, I miss ALT lunch, but also I can't eat it any more so it's probably for the best. I have to cook or buy something now. High school... pfft!


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Maira Gall