Lunch ON!

Ever since buying myself a Freesat box a few years ago, one of my favourite free-to-air channels has been NHK World, the international output of the Japanese state broadcaster.

The variety of programmes on NHK World ranges from news and sport to travel documentaries, pop culture magazines and cooking shows. The general theme is colourful, lighthearted (mostly), and always interesting. What’s more, NHK World is one of the handful of free-to-air Freesat channels to broadcast in HD – which makes it all look fantastic. (NHK World is on Freesat channel 209, buried in the news channels).

I’ve had a bit of a Japanophile streak for a number of years now, but I’ve never visited. I quickly set-to filling the box’s hard drive with NHK World shows, finding some that didn’t grab me, some that I like to dip into now and then, and some that I just can’t miss. The latter category tends to cover the holy trinity of food, travel and culture.

There are shows on cycling in Japan, shows on Japan’s railway infrastructure past and present, and even this one show that just hangs out at a particular place (bus terminal, outdoor bar, ferry, etc.) for a period of time, asking random individuals what they’re doing there. This last, Document 72 Hours, can be surprisingly candid and enlightening.

One of the shows I just can’t miss is Lunch ON!, a weekly look at what Japanese people are having for lunch. It follows a formula, has a chirpy narrator, and feels very sweet and comforting to watch. It really is  as simple as: 2-3 segments interviewing average Japanese people and seeing what they’ve got for lunch, or where they go.

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The scope varies from stopping people in the street, to spending a day with the workers in question to see what they do. The fact that people on the show apparently seem to ask to be featured, or that randoms in the street tend to know the show, or even watch, came as a surprise to me. I’d assumed this was just a weird niche show for non-Japanese audiences, not something watched within the country.

The most recent episode followed a pair of road painters and spent a day at an envelope factory. Another featured a team of young men who adjust a city’s bus timetables. In another, we met the employee of a railway company who spends his lunchtimes visiting new eateries and writing about them for his company’s website – with the proviso that all the featured establishments are accessible by train from the city within a lunch hour.

Other times, and more than once, the show has featured a matriarchal figure voluntarily cooking up lunch alone at home for the whole organisation, who always greet her with big smiles and gratitude.

For me, it’s the insight into ‘normal Japanese people’ just as much as the food element. It’s a very unpretentious show. Just ordinary people and their ordinary lunches. Occasionally a segment will feature a much-loved dead Japanese celebrity and talk about what their favourite dish was. It’s all done with humility, enthusiasm and authenticity.

By osmosis, over the past few years, I’ve been soaking up the various approaches to Japanese workday dining. And so it was somehow inevitable that over Christmas I treated M and I to matching bento boxes and some accessories, and we’ve been experimenting with them ever since.

People seem to have got a kick out of the photos I’ve shared of our first faltering steps at making bento, so I will do a few posts in the near future about what we’ve been up to, and anything we’ve learned.

Other NHK World shows that loiter on my TV box’s hard drive include:

  • Document 72 Hours
  • Imagine-Nation
  • Japan Railway Journal
  • Journeys in Japan
  • Seasoning the Seasons
  • Dining with the Chef
  • Trails to Tsukiji
  • Japanology Plus
  • Your Japanese Kitchen Mini
  • Cycle Around Japan
  • and so on…
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