The best thing about working in a public school in Japan is the cultural exposure. Here you get to see a side of Japanese society that tourists typically don’t see, but ironically, my first exposure to school lunches was as a tourist of 14 years old. For one day I visited an elementary school with my Japanese friend and ate lunch with the kids. I remember having a yogurt drink called Yakult, which I thought was the most delicious thing on the planet. My memory of the school lunch was divine and I couldn’t wait to have them when I moved to Japan.
Japanese school lunches are a strange affair.
On one hand, they are touted and being the epitome of healthy eating: hyper-local, hyper-seasonal, balanced to the point of obsessive.
Yet on the other hand they are often over 1,000 calories a lunch (fine if you’re on a sports team, but for anyone else, hello weight gain), extremely carb-heavy (like, pasta with a side of bread and a cake for dessert), and very processed (some items like cheese are past the point of recognition).
The other thing is, not all lunches are created equal. There are some districts that have appalling lunches, as documented by the resident English teachers here and here. Then there are districts like mine, where the school lunch is actually…not bad.
I didn’t photograph the lunch every single day, so these shots are of lunches that particularly fascinated me, whether for better or worse.
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