Nikujaga, rice, and natto with miso soup. This was the kind of meal you’d normally expect from a Japanese school. I was unimpressed. The 5th grade class I was supposed to eat with forgot me for about 15 minutes so thankfully I had a chance to refuse the natto before I took the picture. I didn’t even have to protest. Turns out there weren’t enough cups for everyone in the staff room so they made passing lip service to offering me one and then instantly gave it to someone else. Foreigners don’t eat natto, of course.
Actually, most of us don’t. It is rather gross. Fermented soy beans. Ugh. The smell and consistency do it in. Nope, nope nope. But, this was somewhat special natto. The girl who escorted me to her classroom for lunch and also sat beside me tried to tell me but I didn’t understand her at first. The teacher translated. That bird on the cup is Kobaton, the pigeon mascot of Saitama Prefecture. Apparently the soy beans used in most natto are imported. These aren’t. This natto is local! All the way! Yay! I am impressed with the sustainability of it all, but that still isn’t getting me to eat some for lunch. Sorry. That girl sitting next to me was one hell of an eater. She’s 11 and in 5th grade but she ate like a linebacker. When I first sat down she lamented that I had more soup than her. Having not touched it yet, I switched bowls. She thanked me. She ended up eating all that soup and getting a refill and also two bowls of rice and two cups of natto and more nikujaga. She had double of everything and almost went back for more soup but she ran out of time. I asked her if she was still hungry as a joke and she gave me a laundry list of all the stuff she was still interested in eating at that moment. Asked her about breakfast. Yes, she had three pieces of toast and all the fixing and on and on. This tiny stick of a girl must be going through a growth spurt.
Halfway through her second natto I noticed the adorable illustrations on the side of the cup depicting the natto fermenting process. Local and educational! I do love how they must anthropomorphize everything for cute stuff like this. It isn’t just a cartoon about how natto is made, it’s a cartoon about the soy bean’s personal joy at being made into delicious natto just for you, school children. Some things don’t really need faces, Japan. Sometimes you can just draw the thing and you don’t have to put a face on it. I promise. You’re allowed.
After lunch I indulged in some KitKats. I broke a 1,000 yen note at the 7-11 so as to make a bunch of copies for a class and broke that sucker on candy. Like a proper, irresponsible adult. Two inches of forbidden chocolate goodness. Yeah!