He’s known for his outspoken and often controversial opinions, from saying that civil servants who have tattoos should resign, to denying the forcible recruitment of South Korean “comfort women” during the second world war.

But it was an intense debate about whether students should be allowed to have furikake seasoning with their school lunch that left city mayor Tōru Hashimoto scratching his head this week as he asked the Osaka Board of Education: “What’s wrong with furikake?!”

Cold, unappetising and tasteless is how junior high students in Osaka describe their school lunches. And kids have been voting with their chopsticks, leaving lunches uneaten. With 70 percent of students failing to finish their school lunch, the city Board of Education has been discussing ways to get them to clear their plates.

“More students might eat their rice if they could have furikake [with school lunch]”, teachers suggested in a meeting on Tuesday. Mayor Hashimoto then asked in amazement, “Furikake wa dame nan desu ka?”, which translates as “Huh? What’s wrong with furikake?” or “Why can’t they have furikake?”

Furikake is a flaked flavouring that is sprinkled on rice. It comes in all kinds of flavours, but it’s typically fishy with seaweed, and is a popular and effective way to get Japanese kids to eat up their bowl of plain rice.

▼ Furikake: Looks weird, tastes great.


So what’s the problem with furikake? Well, typically, school lunches in Japan are rice-heavy and well-balanced. But furikake is high in salt, and allowing kids to use it might undo the careful balance of the healthy meal they’re being served. On the other hand, some say that the negative effects of higher salt intake might be offset by the benefit of students actually finishing their meals.

School meal uptake in Japan is impressively high, and students are expected to eat the whole thing with no leftovers. But in Osaka, where bringing lunch from home has long been the norm, school lunches are a recent development. In 2011, only 11 percent of junior high students in Osaka were having a “full school lunch” including milk, compared to a national average of 76 percent. Amid concern that some homemade lunches were not healthy enough, school lunches were rolled out across the city.

▼ Iced buns, while delicious, do not a healthy lunch make.


But to keep costs down, lunches in Osaka are prepared elsewhere, refrigerated, and delivered to schools. The problem is, lots of kids don’t like chilled lunch.

▼ And who can blame them? Meat and potato stew, straight from the fridge.


On the furikake question specifically, the debate lasted 10 minutes and did not come to any concrete conclusions; the board decided to consult with experts before taking any further action. Will flaked seasonings be allowed in Osaka’s schools? Hashimoto was insistent that schools must be allowed to decide for themselves without interference from the city government: “If we can’t even let schools decide about furikake…”

Sources: Sankei Shimbun/Yahoo, Naver Matome
Featured image: awatajinja