This week’s TV news reported that an alarming 16.1 % of children cannot afford to pay up for their kyushoku fees.

Below are two articles reporting on the kyushoku school lunch.


Where’s the milk? School lunches no longer sacred cows (Japan Times, January 26th, 2015)

by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Last Saturday was the start of Gakko Kyushoku Shukan (School Lunch Week), an annual celebration of the meals that public elementary and junior high school students in Japan enjoy every day by force of law.

School lunches have been a point of pride for Japan’s education institutions, a means of integrating lifelong health maintenance into the standard curriculum. On another level, mandatory school lunches, as the late writer Kuniko Mukoda once famously pointed out, was the basis for the widespread idea that all Japanese belonged to the “middle class.”

Several years ago, the government said it wanted to reinforce “food education,” though it hardly seems necessary since the school lunch program already does that, and very effectively. According to law, all public school children below high school must buy lunch, and those who cannot afford it receive subsidies from the authorities. Each school will have its own nutritionist to make sure the children receive properly balanced meals. In terms of cost, the ingredients for the meals will be paid for by the students, meaning their parents, while labor, maintenance and other related expenses are taken care of by local governments with help from the central government.

This latter element has lately been challenged as more local governments look for ways to cut their budgets. Last summer, Sanjo, a city in Niigata Prefecture, “experimentally” stopped serving milk with lunches at 30 public schools. The ostensible reason, according to the mayor, was that parents complained that milk doesn’t fit in with the Japanese cuisine the schools served.

The experiment happened to coincide with the consumption tax hike that went into effect last April, and the mayor conceded that one reason for cutting milk was to “prevent further increases in the cost of school lunches.” At the time, parents were paying ¥250 for elementary school children’s lunches and ¥300 for junior high school. The carton of milk that came with every meal cost the city ¥50.

Naturally, the Hokuriku Dairy Association protested strongly against Sanjo’s decision. Last year, Niigata dairy farmers produced 53,600 tons of milk, 14 percent of which was used in school lunches. The association challenged the opinion that milk doesn’t go with Japanese food, as did nutritionists, who pointed out that the absence of milk on a daily basis could have a negative effect on a child’s development, since a carton contains 200 of the minimum 300-400 grams of calcium required.

Even the education ministry found the experiment strange, saying it had “never heard of a school giving up milk for lunches.” Sanjo countered that the calcium could be made up easily by, for instance, fortifying soup with fish stock. In any event, the city received 61 messages from residents, with 43 supporting the experiment.

As the dairy association’s reaction shows, school lunches are an important source of revenue for local producers, and often local governments tweak menus to help farmers. Six years ago, Sanjo stopped serving bread and noodles in its school lunches and replaced these staples with rice full time in order to promote the area’s rice farmers.

The city of Kyoto recently did something similar, increasing the use of rice in its bid to promote “Japanese food culture” in line with UNESCO’s plan to register washoku as a cultural heritage item. Previously, Kyoto schools served rice four days a week and on the remaining day bread or noodles, but they decided to do rice all the time. Bolstering Sanjo’s claim about milk, Kyoto by the same token wants to promote green tea as the standard lunch beverage.

As Asahi Shimbun pointed out, school lunches have always had a political dimension. After the war, food was scarce, and U.S. relief agencies and UNICEF provided Japanese public schools with powdered milk and wheat. Some people believe it had less to do with charity than with getting Japanese children hooked on bread, so that U.S. farmers could sell more wheat to Japan.

In any event, Japanese of a certain age remember vividly the white bread loaves (koppe-pan) and cups of lumpy, yellowish milk they consumed every day until the mid-60s, when fresh milk was finally introduced. White rice didn’t become common in school lunches until around 1975. Similarly, the Japanese whaling industry had a kind of captive market for its wares.

Since then, Japanese school lunches have become the envy of the world and are considered instrumental in putting children on a path to avoid the obesity that plagues so many industrialized countries where school lunches are optional and discretionary.

Nevertheless, cost is a concern. According to the education ministry, average monthly fees for school lunches in 2013 ranged from ¥3,691 for the first three years of elementary school to ¥4,628 for junior high school. The ministry also found that labor, maintenance and other costs borne by local governments tend to be more than twice the cost of ingredients. The average cost of a meal is now between ¥880 and ¥920, which means the local government has to pay the difference when the ¥250-¥300 fee paid by parents is subtracted.

As Sankei Shimbun once pointed out, the cost of providing one meal to a child is higher than it is for the average salaryman, which in 2007 was ¥650. But maybe that isn’t so strange when you consider the general feeling that school lunches are held in such high esteem. Some local governments even serve school lunches to the general public in restaurants. They are very popular, and not just for nostalgic reasons. Read the entire article here.

Food education the law in Japan | School lunches part of education
By Danielle Nerman, CBC News Posted: Jan 12, 2015

Masako Otsubo lectures on Shoku-iku during lunch at Harumichi Elementary School in Yamatokoriyama, Nara Prefecture. (Danielle Nerman/CBC

Masako Otsubo lectures on Shoku-iku during lunch at Harumichi Elementary School in Yamatokoriyama, Nara Prefecture. (Danielle Nerman/CBC

In 2014, the Japanese government spent more than 200 million yen on “Shoku-iku.” Translated, Shoku-iku means “eating education.” Dr. Yukio Hattori coined the term more than a decade ago and calls it a blueprint for conscious eating.

“Many young people don’t eat well, their diets are bad. So we had to rectify this. And so that is why we started this movement,” says Hattori.

Shoku-iku is taught in every Japanese public school, starting in kindergarten. Students learn to:

Never skip breakfast.
Avoid buying food from convenience stores.
Choose a traditional Japanese meal over fast food.
“We need people to become healthy through eating because currently, our medical fee is 40 trillion yen per year. Increasing one trillion yen per year,” says Hattori.

Hattori helped the Japanese government develop and implement the “Basic Law of Shoku-iku” in 2004. Since the law was brought in, the number of diet and nutrition teachers in Japan’s public schools has gone from 34 to more than 4,000.

AUDIO | Food education law in Japan
What’s the secret to Japan’s slender population? Serious ‘eating education’
Masako Otsubo is one of them, delivering food education at three schools in Yamatokoriyama City, in Nara Prefecture.

“More and more people are suffering from lifestyle-related diseases, and that is not only among adults but also children. I think more people in Japan are recognizing the importance of teaching children about good food and good eating so they can become healthy grown-ups,” says Otsubo.

After I interviewed Otsubo, she gave a Shoku-iku lecture to Grade 6 students at Harumichi Elementary, while they ate lunch. The meal was made from scratch and consisted of steamed rice, Japanese curry with vegetables and a green bean and lotus root salad.

Otsubo designed the healthy menu. “School lunches are part of education,” says Otsubo.

School lunch program

At Sanya Elementary in the Tokyo suburb of Suginami, I watched a group of Grade 2 students haul heavy trays of service dishes and pots of hot food into their classroom. Wearing matching white chef’s hats and sanitary masks, they quickly and confidently ladle steaming miso into bowls for their teachers and classmates. There is no room here for picky eaters. Everyone gets the same lunch and eats together, at their desks.

About 99 per cent of elementary schools and 85 per cent of middle schools in Japan’s public school system have a hot lunch program. It costs about $4.00 per meal and each one rarely hovers over 700 calories.

“To be obese in Japan would be very difficult because you’d be scrutinized. [There’s] huge social pressure to be similar. There’s a saying here that goes, ‘The nail that sticks out gets hammered down,'” says Jason Wik, who grew up in Cranbrook, B.C.

He’s been living in Tokyo for nearly two decades. Wik married a Japanese woman and has two daughters, 9 and 13 years old. During dinner at the Wik household, I watched the girls fill their plates with their favourite foods — raw fish and edamame. Both girls are enrolled in the Japanese public school system. Their dad gives Shoku-iku some credit for their healthy eating habits.

“Certainly, aggressive steps to educate kids about what eating properly is and how to grow their own food would be a good start. But I don’t think it’s just up to the individual consumer. The industries and corporations that are responsible for a lot of food in the stores need to change,” says Wik.

That’s already happening. Employees from Kikkoman regularly visit schools and give lectures on soy products. And Tanita Corporation, a Japanese company that manufactures weight scales, has opened a chain of restaurants that offer “500 calorie meals.” The eateries also offer diners a free full-body composition test.

Danielle Nerman travelled to Japan under the 2014 Foreign Press Centre Japan (FPCJ) media fellowship. The program is designed to enable Canadian journalists to broadcast and write articles that will give people outside of Japan an opportunity to learn about the country.

On Japan’s school lunch menu: A healthy meal, made from scratch

By Chico Harlan January 26, 2013 Washington Post

In Japan, school lunch means a regular meal, not one that harms your health. The food is grown locally and almost never frozen. There’s no mystery in front of the meat. From time to time, parents even call up with an unusual question: Can they get the recipes?

“Parents hear their kids talking about what they had for lunch,” said Tatsuji Shino, the principal at Umejima Elementary School in Tokyo, “and kids ask them to re-create the meals at home.”

Japan takes seriously both its food and its health and, as a result, its school lunches are a point of national pride — not a source of dismay. As other countries, including the United States, struggle to design school meals that are healthy, tasty and affordable, Japan has all but solved the puzzle, using a system that officials here describe as utterly common sense.

In the United States, where obesity rates have tripled over the past three decades, new legislation championed by Michelle Obama has pushed schools to debut menus with controversial calorie restrictions. But even the healthiest choices are generally provided by large agri-food companies, cooked off site, frozen and then reheated, and forced to compete in cafeterias with all things fried, salty and sweet.

Schools in Japan, by contrast, give children the sort of food they’d get at home, not at a stadium. The meals are often made from scratch. They’re balanced but hearty, heavy on rice and vegetables, fish and soups. The meals haven’t changed much in four decades.

Mealtime is a scene of communal duty: In both elementary and middle schools, students don white coats and caps and serve their classmates. Children eat in their classrooms. They get identical meals, and if they leave food untouched, they are out of luck: Their schools have no vending machines. Barring dietary restrictions, children in most districts can’t bring food to school, either, until they reach high school.

Japan’s system has an envious payoff — its kids are relatively healthy. According to government data, Japan’s child obesity rate, always among the world’s lowest, has declined for each of the past six years, a period during which the country has expanded its dietary education program.

Japan does struggle with childhood and adolescent eating disorders, and government data show a rise in the number of extremely skinny children. But there is virtually no malnutrition resulting from poverty. Japan’s children will live on average to 83, longer than those in any other country, according to the World Health Organization.

When it comes to food, Japan has some deeply ingrained advantages. Children are taught to eat what they are served, meaning they are prone to accept, rather than revolt against, the food on their plates. But Japan also invests heavily in cultivating this mind-set. Most schools employ nutritionists who, among other tasks, work with children who are picky or unhealthy eaters.

Though Japan’s central government sets basic nutritional guidelines, regulation is surprisingly minimal. Not every meal has to meet precise caloric guidelines. At many schools, a nutritionist draws up the recipes — no bureaucratic interference. Central government officials say they have ultimate authority to step in if schools are serving unhealthy food, but they can’t think of any examples where that actually happened.

Funding for lunches is handled locally, too: Municipalities pay for labor costs, but parents — billed monthly — pay for the ingredients, about $3 per meal, with reduced and free options for poorer families.

Notable is what’s lacking: You don’t see low-fat options. You don’t see dessert, other than fruit and yogurt. You occasionally see fried food, but in stark moderation. On a recent day at Umejima, kids were served the Japanese version of fried chicken, known as karaage. Each child was allowed one nugget.

Restaurant-worthy meals
Officials at Adachi Ward, in northern Tokyo, say they run a “fairly standard” school lunch program in the ward’s 71 elementary schools and 37 middle schools. And because this is food-obsessed Japan, those standard meals are restaurant-worthy; in fact, the ward publishes a full-color cookbook based on its best school meals.

District officials allow themselves to brag for just one reason, their success in cutting food waste to 5 percent. This follows the “Oishii Kyushoku,” or “Delicious School Lunch,” program they created five years ago to get kids more interested in what they were eating.

At Umejima, one of Adachi Ward’s schools, the hallway walls look like the pages of Bon Appetit magazine. Hand drawings of healthy lunches dreamed up by students hang near the principal’s office. There are charts of beans and spices. Then there’s the real food, which is chopped, diced and simmered every morning, beginning at 8 a.m., by a staff of 12. Shortly after noon, they’ll have meals for 760 students.

“Everything is cooked on site,” school nutritionist Kimii Fujii said. “We even make our own broth.”

Fujii has an expansive job — part educator, part chef and the point person for parent questions. Because of concerns about food contamination in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Fujii gives a daily account on the school Web site of where the lunch ingredients are coming from: the sardines from Hyogo, the carrots from Chiba, the bean sprouts from Tochigi.

She writes the recipes, changing them to reflect seasonal ingredients, and she’s realized, over the years, that kids will eat almost anything if you serve it to them right. They’ll eat hijiki, an earthy black seaweed, if you mix it with rice. They’ll eat small whole fish, heads and all, if they are lightly fried. Tofu is an easier bet, but just to be sure, it sometimes comes with minced pork.

Fujii doesn’t teach a class, but three or four times a year, classrooms come visit her for lunch — meaning they eat in the cafeteria, rather than their classrooms. This field trip comes with a small price: After the kids have served themselves the food, but before they can eat, they get a five-minute lecture about the items on their plates.

Lunchtime, on this particular day, begins with a call from the teacher.

“People in charge, please come up.”

Six third-graders put on their white sanitary smocks and caps and take their positions behind serving trays. One child eyes the thick reservoir of Sichuan tofu and wiggles his right arm, as if to warm up his ladling hand. A teacher shows the girl serving rice how much to give each of her classmates — between 160 and 180 grams.

“Is this okay?” the girl asks as the first student comes by.

When everybody sits back down, the lecture begins.

“Today’s meal is made up of various ingredients, but to fill you up, you have to eat everything fully,” Fujii told the class of third-graders. “If you finish this whole lunch, it means you are taking in 21 ingredients.”

One child interrupted.

“You have to eat a balanced meal.”

“That’s right,” Fujii said. “You can get full without vegetables, but we still need them. Why do we need them? Because they have Vitamin C, which makes you stronger.”

Eating as education
Japanese food, contrary to the common perception, isn’t automatically healthy; it includes crispy chicken, rich bowls of salty ramen with pork belly and battered and deep-fried tempura. But, like most cuisines, it can be healthy.

Japan began emphasizing healthy food for its students in the aftermath of World War II, when the government prioritized education and health as a way to catch up to the modernized West. For a decade after the war, school lunch food was still coming from international donations. Many older Japanese remember postwar school meals of powdered skim milk, bread and daikon radish. But by the 1970s, the school meal came to look much like the modern-day standard. These days, ethnic food (such as Korean or Italian) is mixed in once or twice per week.

Japanese government officials say no other country has copied Japan’s system of made-from-scratch meals eaten in classrooms, or even tried to.

“What is most difficult for me to explain is why we can do this and other countries cannot,” said Masahiro Oji, a government director of school health education.

Oji mentioned that last year he attended an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation workshop in Moscow on school lunch programs. Japan sent members of its education ministry, Oji said. Most other nations sent members from their agriculture or farm ministries.

“Japan’s standpoint is that school lunches are a part of education,” Oji said, “not a break from it.”

Yuki Oda contributed to this report.