Ten Days of Japanese Public School Lunch

Time To Eat Japanese School lunch

No matter how you stir it, slice it or serve it, more often than not, teaching public school a full-time job. This means your schools are going to become like a second home of sorts. This is true whether your teaching in the U.S. or teaching in Japan. Spending lots of time at your schools, for many teachers, means that you’ll end up eating there pretty regularly, namely during lunch time. Among the many delightful differences between Japanese and American public schools is the public school lunch.

Growing up, I was definitely one of the “brown-baggin’-it” kids who brought lunch from home as an elementary schooler. Even on the days when Mom was rushed for time, public school lunch just couldn’t come close. As I became a high-schooler and got more into nutrition, while my lunches weren’t as tasty as when Mom made them, I realized that the only way I was going to get the protein and things I needed was to make my own stuff. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I ate cafeteria lunch.

When I say public school lunch, what images come to mind? I’ll tell you what pops in my head, and I’m not trying to be funny or cruel, but I see I a heavyset woman with plastic gloves and a hairnet, taking a ladle, dipping it into a giant metal vat of mystery goo, plopping it onto my plastic, yellow-and-white tray as a travel down the assembly line of “mysterious goodness.” Don’t get me wrong, I think public school lunch is essential (in the U.S.) because there kids who, sad to say, who might not get to eat otherwise. Sometimes I would look at school lunch, look at my own, sad for the kids who HAD to eat the school food.

Teaching public school in Japan, though, I almost never saw anyone carrying a lunch from home, unless there was a day on the calendar (generally specified in advance) where everybody knew to bring their lunches. Nearly every kids would eat the school-made lunches. If kids had food allergies, the school would be notified and the staff would make adjustments to that child’s lunch (crazy, right?)

Having eaten public school lunch in the U.S. and here in Japan, I have to admit that I think Japanese public school lunches (給食, kyushoku) BEAT THE PANTS OFF the lunches I remember at my elementary school (except for maybe pizza day). Why?


While there were large containers for serving food, I was pleasantly surprised to see balanced meals on the students’ plates. I liked there there was a protein source, vegetables, carbs and milk to power the kids through the last half of the day. There were days where some of the lunches went a little overboard on carbs, but in general I was quite impressed with how balanced things were.

I liked seeing parts of the meals that were cooked right there at the school each day (namely soups). I liked seeing fish, fresh tomatoes, green lettuce (as opposed to browning, wilting lettuce). I liked seeing kids smiling while they ate their vegetables instead of just eating around them or tossing them.


One of the teach-in-Japan culture shocks I experienced when I taught at my first public school? There was no cafeteria!!!! I looked and looked for one and never found it. I can only speak to kindergarten and elementary school (but I’m sure it’s the same for middle and high school here in Japan, too). 95% of the time students eat their lunches right in their classrooms. A group of students will don aprons and plastic caps and serve their peers!

I think having no cafeteria, having lunch be something that everyone is responsible for, including the teachers & kids, makes it an entirely different experience. You’re not ladling out food as fast as you can for the masses. You’re having lunch with your class and your teacher. I’m sure there are benefits to the cafeteria-style lunch, too…but I the smaller, cozier lunch-style puts a tally mark on the lunch quality side of things, at least from my perspective.


I remember there being a soft-serve machine in my high school. If you had the money, you could get ice cream. I’ve so little junk food in the Japanese schools I’ve taught for (I can’t even remember seeing kids chewing gum!). Where were the vending machines with all the chips? Where was the candy lady’s house (LOL)?

I have mixed feelings about this. I wholeheartedly agree that kids should be eating the good stuff 90-95% of the time, but treats every now and again aren’t a bad thing. But that may also be the reason why the vast majority of the children here are slim. Last I checked, wasn’t obesity a major childhood issue in the U.S.? (I wonder to what extent it’s an issue in other countries)

To give you a sense of what Japanese school lunch is like, I wanted to just show you pictures of ten random, days of Japanese school lunch: いただきます! (ITADAKIMASU!)

**The reason why I just say “soup” in each of the pictures is because I honestly don’t know the names. I apologize for that in advance. If anyone knows…there’s a comment space below just begging for your to post :D your info!**

Japanese School Lunch 1

Japanese School Lunch Day One: When you mix the vegetables, rice, and meat from this dish (which most kids do), it’s like eating the Korean dish, Bibimbap.

Japanese School Lunch Day 2

Soup, Rice, Meatballs, Spinach and Corn Salad, and Milk. Those meatballs were my second favorite dish at the school. Whatever sauce they were using was slammin’!

Japanese School Lunch Day 3

Bread, Fish Filet (with tartar sauce), Tomato Soup, Salad, and Milk. I think some meals are universal.

Japanese School Lunch Day 4

Today was a simpler lunch day: Rice, Soup, Chicken Patty, Salad, and Milk

Japanese School Lunch Day 5

Rice, Soup, Meat Dumplings, Milk and I’m not exactly sure what the main course was, but it was tofu pork and vegetables. I don’t know about the how it looks, but it’s really quite good.

Japanese School Lunch Day 6

Softomen (soft noodle), A Boiled Egg, Miso Soup, Vegetables and Milk. You add the noodles to the soup, little by little.

Japanese School Lunch Day 7

Natto (fermented soybeans), Fish, Potato/Carrot/Sprout Salad, Rice, Soup, and Milk

Japanese School Lunch Day 8

Chicken, Curry, Nan, Broccoli/Corn/Mayo Salad, and Milk. My favorite lunch days were always the curry and nan days. They also had a creamier style of curry which was even tastier. おいしい!!

Japanese School Lunch Day 9

Fish, Rice, Soup, Sweet Dumpling (I’m not sure what they’re called but they taste a lot like the sweet tofu wrap on Gomoku inari zushi) and Milk

Japanese School Lunch Day 10

Fried Chicken, Vegetable Rice, Corn/Pickle/Cucumber/Carrot Salad, Soup, and Milk

The typical Japanese style lunch consists of rice, some form of protein (fish, chicken, beef, etc.), vegetables, soup, and milk. Overall the meals are well balanced and often really tasty. IF you’re a teacher here in Japan, what are lunches like at your school? I’d love to see pictures if you feel like sharing! :D

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

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  • Anthony G

    Lunch day #10 looks delish, Reminds me alot of the usual bento boxes I would buy

    • http://www.thejapanguy.com The Japan Guy

      It was pretty tasty to be honest!! A lot of the food at that school was

  • http://www.facebook.com/balelia.rossini Valeria Rossini

    Aw, Japanese school lunches are soooo good! When I was at school in italy, school lunches were terribile… And here in Japan they also serve NAAN! OMFG, I wish I was still a child just to eat that lunches!!!

    • thejapanguy

      You could dress up in a Japanese kid’s school uniform and just walk in, lol. No, on second thought maybe you shouldn’t do that. They are REALLY tasty. I don’t know if it’s the same from school to school, though.

  • DL

    Fish filet! With tartar sauce! Mmmmm….
    I shouldn’t have read this article right before lunch though, ’cause now I’m VERY hungry…

    • DL

      I forgot to ask: You guys have a 10-day week?

      • Donald Ash

        No, no, sorry about that, I should’ve explained. School is still Monday to Friday, I just took pictures from two random weeks of school lunch.

      • http://www.thejapanguy.com The Japan Guy

        It was Monday through Friday, an occasional Saturday is there was a special event. But I just got pics of two weeks worth of school lunch :D

    • Donald Ash

      Yeah, pics of food do it to me, too. Aw man, I wasn’t trying to torture you before lunch. Stay strong, DL!

  • Nanami

    I enjoy Japanese food alot. The day-tod-day dishes seem to be really good and healthy too. I made gyoza last night from scratch and it turned out yummy. Does that count?? I has pictures..!

    • Donald Ash

      That absolutely counts! Gyoza are sooooooo GOOD!

    • http://www.thejapanguy.com The Japan Guy

      I am a HUUUUUGE gyoza fan. I’m a pretty big fan of Japanese food in general. Great minds think alike? :)

  • AccessJ

    Cool post. It was fun to compare what I ate with another prefecture. :) How deep are those rice dishes? Ours came in a big pot and the kids dished it out. The girls all refused to eat more than four bites, so the boys’ bowls were always LOADED with way too much rice. http://www.accessj.com/2010/10/5-random-school-lunches-from-japan.html

    • Donald Ash

      Niiiicee! I really enjoyed your photos Access J. There are quite a few similarities, huh? The rice dishes? I don’t remember exactly, but I’d say about an inch deep or thereabouts. It wasn’t all the girls at my elementary school, but many of them didn’t eat so much either, especially as you start to go up in grade level. Thanks for sharing :)

    • http://www.thejapanguy.com The Japan Guy

      Soooo very true lol. The girls were a bit more finicky when it was time to eat everything. But the rice dishes were about as deep as the first digit on an adult index finger maybe slightly deeper.

  • Jennifer

    This is amazing! What a great pictorial! Thank you! This is why most children in US are obese and have diabetes. It’s so sad…

    • ugh

      I ate pizza and chicken nuggets and old oranges in school. I was never fat. There is something else wrong with the big picture. Sheesh.

    • http://www.thejapanguy.com The Japan Guy

      I very delayed, but very sincere THANK YOU!!!

  • Helvetica Baskin Robbins

    US: wait 25x as long to get 1/3 the lunch!

    • http://www.thejapanguy.com The Japan Guy


  • Amy

    OH MAN! That was one of my favorite things about teaching in Japan. I loved those school lunches. The students couldn’t believe how deranged I was.

    • http://www.thejapanguy.com The Japan Guy

      Right?!? I was really impressed with the lunches. I thought it was just me

  • Nanami

    @_@ these look so much better than the stuff my school served

    • http://www.thejapanguy.com The Japan Guy

      Really? I wish you had a pic to show. I’m so curious to see what some of the lunches are like at the school sin other parts of Asia. So interesting.

      • Nanami

        I think I DO have a few lying around on a USB somewhere. I’ll check it out later and maybe send you a couple :)

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