A bright point of any work day is lunch. The day is at least half over, and a nice break with good food is always appreciated. Working as an ALT, eating Japanese school lunches, lunch becomes both a break in the day and a bit of a game of roulette.
In some ways I am luckier than a great many other ALTs, in that I have always made learning how to read Japanese menus a high priority. At the beginning of every month all the teachers receive a list of every lunch for that month with a nutritional break down. For those who can’t read much Japanese this is not a big help, and every day brings a new surprise.
I can usually read most of what is coming, and at least figure out if the lunch will be good or bad. This being Japan, there is a lot of fish on tap, though it is usually a random hunk of cooked fish, a meal that rarely appeals to my landlocked taste buds. The variety is actually rather amazing. Naturally most of the time lunch is Japanese food, but there are plenty of meals inspired by Chinese, Korean and Western cooking.
I say inspired by because like most things here, these cuisines have been filtered through that uniquely Japanese sense of taste. Things that should be spicy have been robbed of all pep, and beware of anything that should have cheese in it.
Each lunch is actually quite balanced though, with fruit, veggies, protein and carbs. Really, aside from the occasional bad tasting clunker, the lunches are pretty good. The real problem for the ALT is that each serving is intended for a growing young junior high school student. They pack a pretty big punch calorie wise, and yet the serving size rarely seems like quite enough, which makes seconds a tempting but risky proposition.
As someone who never ate school lunch growing up, I have nothing to compare my lunches too, but I think that generally they do a good job. Not every lunch is a winner, but that holds true when restaurant hopping in downtown Denver too.