This "5 random school lunches" entry will show you exactly what we get fed at school in a typical week, but for now let's have a look at how lunchtime works.
In most schools, the children of the ALTs weekly host class come and collect them and their (weird) food from the teacher's room. Then you'll sit around for ages while they serve each other. Then say いただきます (itadakimasu) and eat in about 5 minutes, followed by sitting around waiting for the end-of-eating chime. This is usually 5-10+ minutes of loneliness.
Its even less fun than it sounds. Don't get me wrong, I love my kids. But if they ever work up the courage to speak to me it's just to ask what my favourite colour is, how tall I am and if I have a girlfriend. I've taught them for several years, they know this stuff already. And talking Japanese to them just makes them laugh... :(
When the bell rings, say いただきました (itadakimashita), "wash" your plates and bowls with 100ml of water and a pair of chopsticks and then go your separate ways. Then everyone will brush their teeth. We don't recommend this step because dentists say it's bad for your teeth.
Milky rice-fed anecdote rant:
- Lunch comes with 200ml of milk. When I worked at my last school, despite having an allergy, it took several months and an intervention by the Board of Education to cancel my order of it.
It may sound petty, but that saved me about 12,000yen a year. Plus I don't drink it for God's sake. I'm not sure why they made such a big deal about it, but it seems that being just like everyone else is a very important part of school life. On that subject, let me recommend an excellent book: Becoming Japanese: The World of the Pre-School Child by Joy Hendry.
- And another thing. I try to keep to a pretty strict diet, not to mention that a mountain of rice midday makes me very sleepy. I started to give away most or all of my rice (and bread/noodles) every day to hungry looking students. Then one day a teacher complained about me! The same day the Head Of Teachers came to have serious words with me about being in Japan and having to do things the Japanese way. "I'm on a diet," I said, to which he responded "The government told us that eating rice at lunchtime will not make us fat."
Two friends have gone as far as to actually take their own lunch to school, though this is definitely frowned upon and is not recommended. Nevertheless, at my old school there was a German girl (born here) who brought her own lunch every day. I got the strong impression that she was a bit segregated for various things like that which she did differently. More so, perhaps, than for her skin tone. Her parents seem like very smart people, but for some reason they made this judgement which only enforced the very Japanese idea that "foreign" people and "Japanese" people are completely different.