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Although Alexis Sanborn was a self-professed Japanese-culture geek as a teenager, she never had much of an appetite for washoku (Japanese cuisine).

As she grew up reading anime in a California suburb in the early 1990s, before the Japanese restaurant boom in U.S. urban cities, Sanborn stuck to her native Italian and American diet. But while teaching abroad in Gotsu, Shimane Prefecture, on the Japanese Exchange and Teaching program from 2009 to 2011, while in her 20s, Sanborn began to love kyūshoku, Japan’s institutionalized school meals, which are prepared using fresh local ingredients in school kitchens.

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