Everyone who has attended school retains memories of school lunches. The simple experience of eating together with other students and teachers is almost as important as learning inside the classroom. Social skills, informal interaction and a sense of shared community are basic to school lunches. However, 14 major cities, including Sapporo, Niigata and eight Tokyo wards, have jeopardized that universal experience by raising the price of lunches, according to recent surveys.

Soaring costs for staple foods are blamed for the price hikes, and school officials note that lunches had been retained at the same price for many years. Healthy lunches at schools should not be victim to economic fluctuations. As with all education expenses, school lunches should be kept inexpensive, or even free, as an important part of the basic school experience.

Despite the actions and explanations by hard-pressed officials, one wonders where the education ministry stands on this issue. With so many changes taking place in Japanese education, it is important to not overlook this essential element. Students with a poor diet can hardly be expected to concentrate on a new curriculum. Parents spending extra on food can hardly be expected to purchase extra books and supplies. While the rise may seem minimal — in some cases as little as ¥25 more per meal — when required in this way, it feels like an added tax.

Surely, with the incredible involvement of the education ministry into the smallest details of teaching, textbooks and school life, attention could also be paid to what students are eating and at what price. What children learn at their school lunches, just like what they learn in class, will remain with them for years to come. School lunch is just the place to encourage good adult eating habits and the importance of socializing. Greater support for lunches would be a small, easy investment that would pay large benefits for years to come.

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