Lunchtime in High School: Japan vs Singapore

When I was in high school, having to wake up at 6am was the worst thing in the world. When I grow up, I’m going to have a job that lets me wake up at noon.  To say I disliked school would have been an understatement.

The best part of my day was lunch with my best friend. The period before lunch was pure torture. My unblinking eyes would stare at the clock while it did the final countdown of what seemed like life and death.

When the bell finally went off…

I was free!

Well, at least for 30 minutes.

But canteen food… MEH. It wasn’t bad per se, but it wasn’t anything to get excited about.

The period after lunch…even more MEH. I’d rather be taking a siesta.  

In Singapore, both parents usually work, and kids ordinarily get some pocket money from mum or dad to buy lunch. As a multicultural society, we could get Chinese, Malay, Indian as well as vegetarian and halal food in our canteens. 

Eating in classrooms was strictly forbidden and the only thing you were allowed to consume in your classroom was water.

It didn’t stop us from sneaking in a mentos whenever the grown ups weren’t looking.

Shh… It’s our little secret.

At my school, the menu was on a weekly rotation and we were only allowed deep fried food on Wednesdays. Forget sodas like Coke and Sprite. All you could get was tea, fresh fruit juice or soybean milk. Feeling sleepy and craving a coffee?

Forget about it.

“Go wash your face,” my teacher would instruct.

I would politely agree and then take my time in my toilet before returning to the classroom.

C’mon, don’t tell me you’ve never been guilty of that yourself.

During lunch, teachers sat at a separate table of a different colour and didn’t socialise with us students. In the canteen, we were free to sit with whomever we wanted and boy did the cliques mark and protect their territories.

Doesn’t matter where you grow up. The adolescent years are never easy.

But still… Each public school system has its own way of raising its young. 

In Japan, depending on the city and prefecture you’re in, the school may or may not provide school lunch. In the event that your school doesn’t, you can either byob (bring your own bento) or order a catered one in the morning before classes start.

Bentos are meant to be eaten at room temperature, while school lunches are hot meals. The Best-Looking Bento Contest isn’t really a topic I want to get into, but it’s safe to say that most bentos are prepared by mothers. 

Some schools in Japan even disallow the consumption of bentos bought at convenience stores and supermarkets.

Processed foods aren’t healthy. End of story. Can’t say I disagree.

As part of my job, I am often required to eat lunch with my students. It’s the only time I get to see them outside the structure and discipline of lesson time.

It’s when I get to hear about what their lives are like – the challenges they face, the hobbies they pursue and what their dreams and goals are.

At my school, students have lunch in their classrooms with assigned groups which change monthly. The homeroom teacher is always present during lunch time to watch over and socialise with their kids.

Lunch always begins with an itadakimas which translates to ‘I humbly receive’, and is the French (and English) equivalent of Bon Apetit. With the conclusion of lunch, everyone puts their hands together and utters a quick gouchisousamadeshita. 

That was delicious.

Although I wouldn’t describe the school lunches I’ve had as delicious – they were always healthy. And as much as I love to binge now and then, I’m wise enough and…old enough to put my health before my vice.

Now that my student days are long gone and I’m back in high school as a teacher – the best part of my day is getting up at 5am to get ready to greet my students.

To say that I love school…would be an understatement.

2 thoughts on “Lunchtime in High School: Japan vs Singapore

  1. Diva-chan!
    Any morning I drive through a school zone, I say think something like “Im so glad I dont have to go in there!” or even a prayer “thank you Abba for not making me go in there anymore.” Ha. Then later I will speak of the wonderful teachers I had, what they meant to me and I wish I had been a better student. So, even to the most disagreeable of us, teachers DO make an impact and thank you for being one of those who furrow into the lives of the future generation.
    So do they serve Shepherd’s Pie, Mystery Stew, Chicken Fried Steak and Fried Fish on Fridays in that healthy menu? Pizza and sharkbait?


    1. Most of us teachers haul our bums to work cause we love our kids – and for some strange reason, we especially love the naughty ones. HAHA!

      At my school, it’s almost always Japanese food. Yesterday I had a piece of fish, some pork, rice with carrots and mushrooms, salad and pickled vegetables. Kids get excited about curry Tuesdays, though 🙂


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