So this week’s post is about the best time of day…lunchtime! Actually, it’s about lunchtime at kindergarten. My coworkers and I teach at the local kindergarten about two times a week, and every week or two we stay after our regular class and eat lunch with the students. The students eat in their classrooms, so each of us chooses one class to eat with.
I’m not always in the classrooms for the whole getting-ready-for-lunch process, but from what I have observed, it goes like this: First, the students all go out to the sinks in the hallway and wash their hands. Then, they come back in their classroom and each child takes his or her chair and puts it at one of the low tables in the room. They also each take one of the “bentos,” or lunch sets, from the box that has already been delivered to the room.
This is where the process starts to deviate even more from the typical American lunch. Two of the students stand in front of the tables and “introduce” themselves (I think this is to get practice giving self-introductions?). They lead the other students in a lunchtime song, then in a prayer giving thanks for the food (probably very unusual for Japan, but this is a private school owned by a Christian). The students all fold their hands and chorally repeat the prayer, then unfold their hands and continue a long recitation of something else. I’ve only been able to catch part of it, but from what I can gather it’s some sort of appeal/gratitude-giving to parents and others who prepared the meal.
The process is ended with the word “Itadakimasu,” which literally means “I receive” in a very humble form. This is one of the key phrases used in Japan – if you go to a meal at someone’s house, or if someone gives you a snack, this is a phrase that you should definitely say before you eat!
After all these preliminaries have ended, the students can finally eat. School lunches here are much more uniform than in the States. From what I understand, even at public schools students usually eat the school lunch instead of bringing their own. Here at the kindergarten, each student brings his or her own container of rice, and the school provides the rest of the meal – a small divided box filled with a variety of meat or fish, vegetables, and fruit. The lunch option changes from day to day, but from what I’ve seen it always contains food from these three categories.
Here are a couple of pictures of the school lunch (in the yellow box), with the containers of rice that the students bring themselves. The specks on the rice are from seasoning packets that the students sprinkle on to make their rice more flavorful. They also each have their own fork/spoon/chopstick set (the reason you can’t see the chopsticks in these pictures is because the students have them in their hands!). They also usually have their own packet of wipes, and a bottle containing – what else – green tea! There might be some exceptions, but most of the students whom I ask tell me that there’s green tea in their bottles. They are surprised when I tell them that children in American don’t drink green tea!
One thing that always surprises me is how the children gobble their lunches with gusto. I very rarely hear complaints about the types of food in their bento box. They chow down on their rice, meat, fruit, and veggies until they’re gone. When I think of the picky five-year-old eaters in America, it kind of amazes me.
After polishing off their lunches, the students pick up their dishes and go out in the hallway again to brush their teeth at the sink. Then they pick up their chairs and make rows, choose a book to read, and sit down. The completion of lunchtime is fairly open-ended; as each student finishes, he or she follows the clean-up procedures and then reads, alone or with friends, until all the students are finished. So, all in all, the whole lunchtime process takes about an hour or so. I usually stick around and read with the kids for awhile during this time. Much to my shame, most of them can read the kindergarten-level books faster (and with much better intonation!) than I can. I guess I need to keep practicing my elementary reading skills!
So there you have it – a peek at lunchtime in a Japanese kindergarten. Makes you want a bento box and some chopsticks of your own, doesn’t it? 🙂