Japan’s Ministry of Education funds nutrition education campaign at Suginami School

nutrition japanBy Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
October 22, 2015
Tokyo, Japan—In an effort to combat the region wide problem of non-communicable diseases like dietary diabetes, Japan's Ministry of Education has been monitoring a pilot education and nutrition program at Sanya Elementary School in the Suginami Ward of Tokyo. They've backed the campaign with a budget of six to seven million yen (about $50 to $60 thousand)
The Pacific Islands journalists invited by the Association for Promotion of International Cooperation had opportunity to witness the program in operation and to join one fifth grade class for lunch at Sanya Elementary.
As the journalists entered the school grounds, dozens of school children were skipping rope and running around the school's well equipped playground. When the school's principal Mr. Kazuyoshi Yamagishi gave the journalists a tour, it was easy to be distracted by the sound of children singing in their music classes or by other children participating in physical education training in the school's well stocked gym.

The school runs on a tight schedule and clocks were everywhere, even out of doors.
The government has entitled the program, "Skokuiku", the Japanese word that means food and nutrition education.
Yamagishi gave the journalists a tour of the school garden. The garden preceded the Skokuiku program but links in with the government's campaign quite nicely. It's not a large garden but every grade at the school, which runs from April to March each year is responsible for a different crop. One grade plants and maintains a curry crop. Another maintains their carrot crop. Gourds get the attention of another grade.
The sixth graders have the special opportunity to travel to a village at the foot of Mt. Fuji each year to plant rice in the village of Oshino. In March those students go back and harvest the rice. Last year the harvest was 400 kilograms which fed the school for one week after it was processed by the locals of Oshino.
Previously, students planted Shiitake mushrooms in the shade of a tree on the school grounds, but they stopped after the 2011 nuclear disaster. Principal Yamagishi explained that mushrooms are particularly susceptible to nuclear poisoning. The risk was not worth it. However, the rest of the garden has tested as safe.
Yamagishi said that the most important mission of the school is for the children to learn about life and how to appreciate it. The garden contributes to that mission and also helps to keep the children calm.
As an example he pointed out that the leaves on the curry crop are worm eaten. The children faced an ethical and moral dilemma regarding what to do about the worms. Should they kill them so that the crop would live or should they let the worms live and potentially sacrifice the crop? Yamagishi said that the teachers did not make the decision for them but they did provided mentors to help to counsel them. Ultimately the children decided for a light pesticide treatment and for simply throwing the worms away when they found them alive.
"It helps them to appreciate their food when they work for it", Yamagishi said through an interpreter.
Journalists joined a fifth grade class for a meal of Miso soup, spinach salad, and a blue fish and rice dish. Yamagishi had earlier explained that the meal was 750 calories and also explained the exact nutritional value of the components of the meal.
Not one grain of rice was left on any plate in the room except for those of the journalists who weren't quite as adept in the use of chopsticks as the children were.
The education campaign has also involved parents for after school nutritional programs. Yamagishi said that even though parents are very busy these days, at least 100 of them have participated in the educational programs.
Yamagishi said that once a month the children are required to prepare and take a bento box to school, a takeout meal. They have to prepare it themselves. Before they eat they talk about why they prepared the foods in their bento box. Yamagishi said that the meals they bring have become increasingly nutritious as the "Skokuiku" campaign has continued.
Yamagishi said that the school believes that healthy bodies foster greater academic performance and the studies they have conducted have shown thank thinking to be true.
The Ministry of Education's experiment seems to have been working and many of the children say that lunch is their favorite subject

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