If you're a fan of manga, anime or Japanese TV dramas, then you may have seen depictions of school-provided lunches in a Japanese school. However, unless you've been an exchange student in a Japanese school, had a job teaching at one, or live in Japan and have kids who go to school here, you've probably never had an opportunity to try a Japanese school-provided lunch for yourself.

Tamagawa Onsen: A Little Retro Showa Wonderland

If you're curious, there's an interesting new option to explore on your next visit to Tokyo or the Kanto area. The place is called Tamagawa Onsen, a fun facility which combines a hot springs, a cafeteria and an old-fashioned candy shop and gift shop with a Showa retro theme.

150 Years of School-Provided Lunches: From Meiji to Heisei

Tamagawa Onsen usually offers nostalgic Showa era food on their regular menu, even some items which many Japanese who spent their childhood in the Showa era will fondly remember from their school years. However, to commemorate the end of the Heisei era on April 31st, and the beginning of the as-of-yet unnamed new era on May 1st, they're having a special campaign in which you'll be able to taste menus in the six months between February and June which reproduce school-provided lunches dating as far back as the Meiji Era.

February: Meiji Era

For example, in the Meiji era which began about 150 years ago, a typical school-provided lunch was salted grilled salmon with pickled vegetables on the side and two big rice balls, like this:

March: Taisho Era

Menu: Five-Color Rice (rice cooked with items in five colors. For example, ground meat, yams, and vegetables such as carrots and spinach), nutrient-fortified miso soup

April: Early Showa Era

Menu: Miso soup with suiton (hand-pulled flour dumplings) (planned)

May: Late Showa Era

Menu: Agepan (sugar-coated fried dough stick), cream stew and croquettes

June: Heisei Era

Menu: Curried pilaf, naan bread, alphabet soup (planned)

Note: Only ten school-provided lunches are available per day, so if you want to be sure to have one, you may want to line up at 11 am when the cafeteria opens.

As you can see from their menu, their cafeteria has a great selection of Showa era inspired foods and menu items which proudly use locally-sourced ingredients, as well as nostalgic menu items such as this school-provided afternoon snack of agepan with a side of milk in a triangular pack and a tube of vitamin-fortified Milmake (a product originally invented to get kids to drink their milk in post-war Japan and still made today in cocoa, coffee or strawberry-flavored powder or syrup form by Oshima Shokuhin Kogyo Ltd.) just like the snacks served in schools in the late Showa era:

Even if you don't enjoy their school-provided lunch, you can surely enjoy their wonderful hot springs decorated in a nostalgic Showa era style, get a foot rub or a massage, or find something to enjoy or bring home as a souvenir at their old-fashioned candy, dagashi (nostalgic snacks) and gift shop:

Located less than 90 minutes from Tokyo by train and bus, Tamagawa Onsen makes for a great day-trip the next time you visit Tokyo.

Tamagawa Onsen Information

  • Full Name: Showa Retro Onsen and Sento Tamagawa Onsen
  • Address: Oaza Tamagawa, Tokigawa-machi, Hiki-gun, Saitama-ken 355-0342
  • Tel: 0493-65-4977
  • Hours: Weekdays: 10:00-22:00, weekends and holidays 5:00-22:00 | (last entry 21:30)
  • Website: Showa Retro Onsen and Sento Tamagawa Onsen
  • Note: According to the website, you will be denied entrance if you have any kind of tattoo, so this destination is not recommended if you have any.

By - Ben K.