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Never mind 'sekuhara' -- now Japan's got 'shokuhara' (eating harassment)

24 Comments

In September 2018, the teacher at an elementary school in Gifu City exhorted the children in his class to finish their lunches, leaving no food unconsumed. The request seemed reasonable enough: school dining halls have long tried to cut down on waste.

But some of the kids found discomfort in being encouraged to eat more than they could comfortably consume, and after five of them vomited, parents mounted resistance to this form of "food fascism" -- the words appear in Spa! (April 23) -- leading to at least two social movements on Twitter: #Kyushoku (#school lunch service) and #Kanshoku shido (#orders to eat completely).

In Tokyo, an 8-year-old student in grade 3 -- we'll call her student A -- who had not suffered from any previous issues, began showing physical and mental changes, believed caused by coercive eating.

"After advancing to grade 2, her teacher would call out to the entire class the names of the students who completely finished their school lunch, and also names of the ones who didn't. These became topics of conversation in the class," A's mother told the reporter.

Student A was born prematurely and being of smaller stature than her peers, tends to eat less. The size of lunch servings does not take such individual differences into account. Nor does the time allotted for eating.

Student A's absences from school began to increase. She became anorexic, and depressed. Not surprisingly over a fairly brief period her weight declined, from 20 to 17 kilograms. Finally she confronted her parents and complained bitterly about her teacher's coercive tactics.

Chikara Oyano, a veteran elementary school teacher and outspoken education critic, calls the treatment accorded Student A was "a violation of her human rights by those in authority, an act of violence."

"Not to allow a child to get up from the seat until the meal is finished is a vestige of the Showa era," he asserts. "And it seems surprising that it was common to keep them seated through the recess period that followed," says Oyano, who thinks teachers' overbearing behavior toward their wards eating habits reflects their own childhoods from an earlier generation, both at home and in school.

When meeting with student A's parents, her teacher was asked to explain why such strong importance was placed on finishing meals, but no clear explanation was forthcoming.

At this particular school, the office overseeing school lunches performs periodic checks on the volume of unconsumed food for children in each school year, and then issues special awards such as the "Completely cleaned the plate prize" and the "Come on, one more bite prize." These have been traditions at the school for generations and while it is not clear from these that they are intended to encourage children not to leave unconsumed food, the existence of a prize in itself can be considered a form of pressure.

Even worse, taking a hint from their sensei, children notice when a classmate doesn't finish his or her meal and are known to chide them with remarks such as "Hurry up and finish, will ya?" or "Oh gee, you didn't finish again," which may be the first stepping stone toward full-blown ijime (harassment).

"I continue to advocate boosts in education budgets and hiring of more instructors, but in addition to differences in academic levels we also need to address differences in individual students' abilities," Oyano said. "In Europe and North America it's common, for instance, to have assistant teachers in addition to the main instructor. In any company as well, budgets are allocated to reinforce shortcomings.

"Instead of just exhorting teachers to "Work harder," if we allocated more funding and boosted the number of instructors, problems like those of student A would vanish."

The problem may be more pervasive than one thinks: Spa!'s writer notes that from May 2017 to September 2018, more than 1,000 parents are said to have confronted elementary and middle schools concerning their child's chronic absenteeism or health problems, and at least some of these appear to have been brought on by coercive policies concerning school lunches. In some cases, the parents sought remedies through the courts.

© Japan Today

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24 Comments
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The sky is falling and now even Japan is falling for these ridiculous claims. Just use common sense ,empathy and compassion.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

When meeting with student A's parents, her teacher was asked to explain why such strong importance was placed on finishing meals, but no clear explanation was forthcoming.

Basically because it's all about the kids shutting up and doing what they are told. The idea that everyone's appetite or sense of taste must be the same is idiotic.

All you need to stop waste is a compost heap. I bet lots of school kitchens don't compost their peelings.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

I'm all for educating the young not to waste food, but come on !

Feeding them like goose until they vomit, give prices, etc... That's not education.

If so many kids can't finish their plate, maybe the portions are to big. How about fixing that first ?

9 ( +9 / -0 )

It's the same Japanese proverb of "hammering down the nail that sticks out", to suppress the out of ordinary. It is a shame that these peoples can't get rid of their childhood pains and tries to inflict the same pain onto the newer generations.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Just use common sense ,empathy and compassion.

You are obviously not familiar with the school system here.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

It's really simple. Let the kids eat as little as they like. If they get hungry later, tough. They will learn to eat more at lunch. Less work for the teacher. Less stress for the kids.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

It's really simple. Let the kids eat as little as they like. If they get hungry later, tough. They will learn to eat more at lunch. Less work for the teacher. Less stress for the kids.

Why assume they'll get hungry later? Why not assume that eating what seems like the correct amount to each individual is simply the correct amount? Why automatically go to "authority and punishment" mode?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

When you think Japan cannot be weirder than this, you get those kinds of articles...

Seriously, bulying and harrassement seems to be part of the Japanese culture. I mean from extremelly minor things like not eating all that junk food from schools, why is everybody surprised that later on you are buliyed because of you color of hair, hobbies, at the office, etc, etc....

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Things aren't all bad on the school lunch front. Here's a JT story from 2016 that sort of shows the other side of the coin.

https://japantoday.com/category/features/kuchikomi/japans-once-spartan-school-lunches-go-upscale-in-big-ways

1 ( +1 / -0 )

One of my children is a picky eater and struggles to finish the lunch every time. On top of having to sit there for the entire lunch period, the punishment is a "hanseibun", having to write a letter of contrition. This has happened multiple times. The lunches the article is talking about are elementary school lunches, which are usually very healthy, but that means a lot of the vegetables young kids don't always like to eat. Those little fish with the heads on as well.

Since we get a list of lunches, the kids get to dread what is coming days in advance. I bet some kids play sick and/or their parents keep them off if its piman day or whatever.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Japanese mentality is very interesting. Even eating should be hard work and you should ganbaru. A case in point, I tell my wife I like carrots which are very healthy, but I hate eggplants because they disgust me. Well guess what we have several times a week? Eggplant. And always out of carrots for some reason...

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I can agree to that, some teachers were adamant about us finishing everything

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Why does everything have to be administered uniformily in Japan? This problem is really a non-problem if people would just use their heads

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I have noticed that when something like this comes up in the US or the UK, it is treated as a case of individual stupidity or arbitrary decision making. When it comes up in Japan, people treat it as a reflection on all of Japan and all Japanese.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

"I have noticed that when something like this comes up in the US or the UK, it is treated as a case of individual stupidity or arbitrary decision making. When it comes up in Japan, people treat it as a reflection on all of Japan and all Japanese."

Nobody is more responsible for propagating the myth that Japanese people are one giant undifferentiated monolith than native-born, ethnic Japanese people themselves. No less a person than Japan's current Finance Minister, Aso Taro, once declared that Japan was a nation of one race.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Look at the brighter side of the story.

"Spa!'s writer notes that from May 2017 to September 2018, more than 1,000 parents are said to have confronted elementary and middle schools concerning their child's chronic absenteeism or health problems, and at least some of these appear to have been brought on by coercive policies concerning school lunches. In some cases, the parents sought remedies through the courts."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There are far too many incidences of this to put it down to "bad apple" teachers. It is a systematic problem.

Someone needs to tell Japanese educators that the war is over and their job is to teach kids the alphabet. It is not their job to produce identical model citizens.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Must be nice to live in a country with too much food to eat.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Better ask student to take food with measure, so that he/she could finish food easily.

If student don't take extra then no point to left.

How do you think?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This wouldn't be a problem if parents sent their kids to school with a home-prepared lunch and snacks. What a no-brainer! A secondary and equally positive benefit would be a reduction in the cost of schooling.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

The size of lunch servings does not take such individual differences into account. Nor does the time allotted for eating.

In other words, everybody must be exactly the same, at all times. Classic Japanese values here.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

At my daughter's hoikuen, kids can request to have smaller helpings of each item. I think the idea is that they get a better understanding of how to gauge how much they can eat on a certain day and there is less waste. I'm not sure if there is any penalty for not eating everything up. As she eats like a horse it has never come up.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Student A was born prematurely and being of smaller stature than her peers, tends to eat less. The size of lunch servings does not take such individual differences into account. Nor does the time allotted for eating.

This is where responsible parenting comes in. Go to your kid's teacher/school and let them know this. Ask them to give your kid a little less serving of food for lunch. They'll accommodate. Everyone's happy.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I make a bento for my daughter at her youchien. I generally like the school but this is such a grinding point with me. They are never happy with what I put in her lunch box. At first it was not enough food (shes a light eater which I have mentioned to them), then when I increased the portions they complained that she wouldn't finish her bento. Then they complained that I wasn't giving her enough variety which is ridiculous, and at the end of the last school year her teacher sent me a letter to request I no longer put 'the food with the smell' in her bento that I had that day because I suppose the smell bothered the other kids... which was just chicken breast and peppers with fajita seasoning and rice... essentially a healthy taco salad. God forbid right?

I swear sometimes the people up top in any given situation in Japan just wanna control absolutely everything. They just want some reason to complain.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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