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Japan education ministry gives OK for students to talk while eating lunch at schools

Students are seen eating lunch in silence at Kego Elementary School in the city of Fukuoka on June 9, 2022. (Mainichi/Noriko Tokuno)

Japan's education ministry released a notification on Nov. 29 confirming that students are allowed to talk with each other during lunch time if schools take appropriate COVID-19 countermeasures.

    The notice by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology was issued to nationwide education boards and other bodies after the government removed rules such as having students "eat lunches silently in small groups as a basic rule" from its basic response policy, which defines measures against the coronavirus. The education ministry has been calling for this information to be spread among schools and those on the ground.

    According to the notice, children are allowed to talk if necessary measures, such as positioning seats so they will not face each other, and securing ventilation, are taken. As masks have been excessively worn at schools, the education ministry also asked schools to take a sensible approach to mask usage by making their own rules specifying when students can take them off and through other measures.

    The hygiene management manual created by the education ministry states that measures including "positioning desks so they do not face each other" and "refraining from speaking in loud voices" are necessary during lunches, and in other settings where students eat in groups. It does not have a rule requiring all schools to have children eat lunches in silence, but in reality, many schools carry out such "silent lunches" out of consideration for the Japanese government's original COVID-19 guidelines. This has sparked opposition from experts and parents, who believed eating in silence would lead to a lack in communication among children.

    Some municipalities took the lead to review silent lunches. The Fukuoka City Board of Education notified elementary, junior high, and special needs schools in June that students were allowed to speak quietly if they took basic preventative measures such as washing hands, ventilation, and social distancing when positioning desks. Tomohiro Sugimoto, head of the municipal education board's school lunch management section, commented, "We eased rules at an early stage as it's important from the standpoint of dietary education for children to have fun while eating."

    From June, the Miyazaki City Board of Education also made it possible for students to talk during lunches as long as they lowered their voices and positioned desks to face each other diagonally, instead of directly across from one another. However, such desk arrangements could only be made in small classes with around 15 students, and silent lunches had been continued in a majority of classes.

    (Japanese original by Makoto Fukazu, Tokyo City News Department, and Yu Yoshizumi, Kyushu News Department)

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