so all the kids obliged as I wandered around and picked out a few lunch boxes that I wanted pictures of.
"Oh look! You've got hearts in your box!"
"Wow, yours looks delicious!"
"Oh, this is too cute to eat!"
Of course I should have kept my mouth shut because pretty soon all the kids were begging me to take lunch box pictures. I finally settled on a lunch table picture and that seemed to make everyone happy.
As you can see, Japanese mothers can go to a lot of work to make a lunch box (called obento) for their children. More and more, kindergartens are going towards a "school lunch" usually made on the premises and served warm. Parents are busy and obento making can take a big chunk out of the morning routines. The pre-school that I also teach at serves a lunch instead of asking the parents to provide the mid-day meal and this is probably the norm. Mifumi Kindergarten where I go on Wednesdays, has always requested that the mothers prepare a lunch box for their children. The kindergarten Principal's policy is that lunchtime is an important connection between the parent and child during the day and so the mothers are encouraged to take into account the child's likes and dislikes and to make lunch time as enjoyable as possible.
When my kids were in kindergarten I actually enjoyed making an obento for them everyday. There are hundreds of books and magazines that specialize just in obento making and I have purchased a few in my time. There are books for making obentos for your husband ("give him a good balanced meal"), for the high school girl ("filling but not too heavy so that she doesn't get a reputation for being a big eater"), for the high school boy ("volume, Mom, volume!") and for the kindergarten child ("as pretty and colorful as possible!"). Kindergarten obentos can be made of tidbits of leftovers and a little imagination.
Most of the obento boxes at the kindergarten on Wednesday were made of aluminum so that they can be put in an obento warmer machine (plastic melts) and then the children can have a warm lunch during the winter. Many of the kids had little separate "tupperwares" of fruit for dessert or a salad. All children bring their own silverware and chopsticks sets and since this is all wrapped up in a colorful handkerchief for carrying anyway the handkerchief serves as a place mat. I think the cups are brought from home and left at the kindergarten during the week. I see all the kids have their toothbrushes at hand.
So, what were some of the kids eating on Wednesday? I think I saw wieners, some dim sum, salmon slices and chicken nuggets. A countless array of vegetables, some simmered down in soy sauce so I don't know what they were. Lots of sweet egg omelets and a few deep fried shrimp. Black seaweed is popular for cutting out and decorating the white rice. Oh and of course rice balls. Lots of rice balls. Not too many sandwiches but a couple. You certainly won't see a peanut butter sandwich with a bag of potato chips and cookies when a Japanese child opens his lunchbox. I tried that once when Takumi was in kindergarten and he came home crying that the kids had told him that he hadn't brought a real lunch. Just snacks!