Ever wondered what covers the walls of an elementary school cafeteria in Japan? Wonder no longer.
Hey, guys. Crazy seeing you here. Welcome, welcome. Humble town we got here.
In this series, my aim is to give an in-depth look at all the small, subtle details that influence Japanese small town life. Seeing not only the town from a distance, but also the town close up, well, I think it’ll be a fun little journey on our hands.
More specifically, this series will do three things:
1) Explain the significance of each site and detail that which might not be obvious.
2) Show and translate any important posters and Japanese text (good for your 日本語!!).
3) Have a lot of pictures!
With that out of the way, on to our first location!
Shichikashuku Elementary School
Ah, the elementary school. My town’s pride and joy. We’ll be spending a lot of time here as there is a lot to see. Furthermore, there is a lot of construction going on, so this needs to be documented before it disappears. Already I’ve lost the chance to show the old science room. And the old teacher’s room and computer room and, well… If I dilly-dally too much longer, we’ll miss more.
Technically, Shichikashuku Elementary school is only eight months old. But the building was the site of Seki Elementary School, which has a storied history of its own. The school was founded in the sixth year of Meiji (1873) and at its height had a main campus and six other satellite campuses (because back in the days before cars, it was pretty much infeasible to go to a single campus or two with a town of my size). In the last year of Seki’s existence, the graduating class was nine small, but looking at the past pictures, some of the graduating classes had more than a hundred students. That’s partially a testament to the declining birthrates and flight from the countryside that Japan has experienced. Back in 1970, the town’s population was 3712. Now the population sits at a mere 1581. I can only wonder what it was like here back in the early twentieth century.
This March, Seki Elementary School and Yunohara Elementary School both officially closed down, and the former Seki Elementary School was used for the new Shichikashuku Elementary School. The school has been under construction this whole year, with countless improvements being made. As I write this, I sit in a temporary teacher’s room built specifically so we have a place to work while our offices are being renovated. In spite of these improvements, the town is still dying. Shichikashuku Elementary’s first graduating class will be eleven strong. Unless we get a transfer student, the second graduating class will number only seven.
On the brighter side, Shichikashuku Elementary School is wonderful. Not only does it boast a great student-teacher ratio (especially when you consider Japan’s 3rd-in-the-world ranking for most students-to-teacher (not a good thing)), but it’s outfitted with some neat technology. Most classrooms have a TV to use, and a few smartboards exist even if they are underutilized. Tablets for the students are also coming soon, but it remains to be seen how often they’ll be used. I’m happy of course, because good technology means they have nice Japanese toilets to use. Many of my friends out here in the countryside have to deal with squat toilets all day.
In the same vein, it’s a wonderful place to teach. Everyone’s encouraging of the English study and one of Shichikashuku Elementary’s goals was to have English one-day-a-week for students starting from the 1st grade (compared with the nationwide start of 5th grade).
Okay, enough with the words. Let’s whip out some pictures!
Shichikashuku Elementary School Cafeteria
Let’s head down to the first floor…
…and through a small doorway…
…and through a bigger door…
…to the cafeteria!
A look to our right: the sinks, among other things.
And to our left: the library! Kids can read when they’re done eating. This is probably my favorite place. Honestly, I enjoy elementary school lunches immensely because, on the chance that I can’t find anything to talk about, I can practice reading. They have everything from Where’s Wally (Where’s Waldo for us Americans) to manga written about famous people to books full of puns to plain normal grade-level books. Solid stuff.
A little further on is a clock (on the upper left) to let students know when lunch begins and ends and below it the board that lists everyone’s duty for that specific day.
And that’s the basic rundown of the cafeteria!
For those who know Japanese culture, most students often eat in their own classrooms. That’s how things often work here. But Shichikashuku is odd in that it has a cafeteria, and all the kids come here to eat together.
I’ll take some questions from the floor:
Do they get to choose what they eat?
Nope. It’s decided by the school nutritionist.
Do they get to choose where to sit?
Nope. It’s prearranged. Mixed, too. Kids from grades 1-6 all sit at the same table.
And who else sits with them?
Teachers. And we all eat the same thing. Nobody brings their own food, except for the vegetarian foreigners / foreigners with allergies amongst us.
Do the kids at least help serve the food?
Yep. Under the supervision of the adults, sure, but students are required to help get the same food onto sixty different trays and get those trays spread out to eight different tables.
Is the food healthy?
Of course. It was decided by a school nutritionist. Next question.
Is the food delicious?
What do you think?
I think the food is amazing. Quality, hot food. And often there’s enough for seconds if you’re hungry. I’m sure some will hate when certain foods make an appearance (natto, anyone?) but for the most part, the food here is worth coming down for.
Do you have to pay for the food?
Yes, actually. It’s between 3000-5000 yen per month, depending on how often I go to the school. That would make each individual meal around 300 yen each, if I did my math correctly.
Nice questions, floor!
Actually, there are a lot of posters I’d like to show, so I’ll only do a few today.
This first one is next to the duty board.
It reads (in pink): “Let’s have fun eating! News”
Below it (in red): “The red, yellow, and green trains are running!”
Below that (in blue): “What kinds of food are riding?”
This needs a little explaining. First of all, unlike our food pyramid, Japan uses a 3-food-type system which classifies food as either red (meat, cheese, eggs), yellow (bread, rice, sugar, potatoes), or green (fruits and vegetables). The red cart proclaims that these foods “will give you a healthy body”. The yellow cart “gives you energy”. The green cart “protects against illness”. Whether or not this is accurate, well, I’m just an English teacher who can barely do 10 push-ups. Not really my area of expertise. In any case, it’s easy enough to understand. In Japan, it’s less about “have 10 pieces of red” a day and more about “this food does this; don’t you want all these upgrades?”
Let’s continue shall we?
Ah, what’s this? Above the aforementioned library? Rules!
A little hard to read, so let’s zoom in…
Rules for school lunch (or as we foreigners lovingly refer to it (perhaps to separate it from the school lunches in our home countries), kyuushoku).
We have two rules here:
1) After you do/say “gochisousama”, don’t eat the food you have left over (stop eating) and brush your teeth.
2) Only choose as much as you can eat.
Only thing I think is odd about these rules is the order that they’re presented in. First we’re talking about the end of the meal and then we’re talking about the beginning? I guess the logic in the order is to remind students that they should only take enough food that they can eat it all before the “gochisousama” that ends the meal. If we look back to the clock at the beginning, we can see that the meal only lasts 25 minutes, which is actually not enough time for a lot of students to eat. Especially the slower eaters.
On that note, I don’t think I’ve ever seen students choosing how much goes on their plate. Only in regards to seconds. Kids are actually forced to eat pretty much everything on their plate, even if they don’t like it. First, second, and third graders are actually given awards if they finish every meal in the month.
Those are pretty cool. Maybe I should find a copy sometime…
Rules for reading:
1) Before the “itadakimasu” (signifying the start of the meal), take the book you want to read to your seat (and put it under the table in this little shelf thing).
2) Even if you finish reading a book, you can’t go and take another book.
3) After you’ve finished help clean up, return the cafeteria’s book (to the bookcase).
Pretty self-explanatory rules, yeah?
Finally, my favorite: The manners to follow!
This month’s manners: “Let’s use words correctly.” Or perhaps, “Let’s be mindful of our language.”
What does it mean? Well, it’s less about swearing (although there was a bit of a problem with some kids referring to old men and old women as じじい and ばばあ, which is a little disrespectful) and more about being conscious of those around when students choose what to talk about. Like, don’t talk about Attack on Titan if only some people can understand. But it’s also about using less くそs and ちくしょーs.
That’s all for now. Next week will have some more!
See You Next Time!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this first foray into my elementary school. I’ll continue with the education facilities and other places around town, and if there’s anything in particular you’d like to see, let me know.
P.S. NaNoWriMo is hard.