These Japanese eateries help grown-ups experience the fun of being a child again
Restaurants offering children’s lunches for adults are gaining popularity, and a restaurant specialising in children’s lunches has even appeared in Tokyo. While these lunches appear to be for children, their quality is on a level of food served at the best restaurants. Why not enjoy an “okosama lunch” prepared with adults in mind yet still with the fun feel of being a child again?
During lunchtime on a weekday in early October, Tokyo Rice, a 25-seat restaurant in the Minami-Aoyama district of Minato Ward, Tokyo, was almost full with customers who dropped by during shopping, and office workers. It is not unusual for there to be a line of customers in front of the restaurant.
Tokyo Rice specialises in children’s lunches for adults. Popular menu items include the “Kiwami” lunch featuring a “hamburg” steak, priced at ¥1,550 (Bt420), “Homare” featuring seafood, priced at ¥1,750, and “Takumi” with tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet), priced at ¥1,650. Along with the main ingredients, all dishes are accompanied by fried rice with chicken with a small flag on top, “Napolitan” spaghetti mixed with tomato ketchup, and “octopus” sausage. As these “children’s lunches” are targeted at adults, the restaurant uses only domestic pork for the hamburg steak. The rice is cooked with chicken stock to give it a light flavour, in efforts to satisfy adult taste buds. The restaurant also serves a dinner menu, along with alcoholic drinks, until 11pm.
“I ate children’s lunch for the first time in 40 years. I remember eating it on special occasions, such as the Shichigosan festival [for 3- 5- and 7-year-old children],” said Mitsuko Fujimoto, 49, of Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, who came to the restaurant for the first time. Fujimoto ordered the “Kiwami” lunch, and said later: “I didn’t eat it for a while because I didn’t want to remove the small flag. There were various tidbits on the plate, which makes it feel a bit special.”
Tokyo Rice opened in April 2012. Hidetaka Itahara, 43, who runs the restaurant, said: “I also have warm memories of eating children’s lunch at a department store that I visited with my parents and grandparents. I started the restaurant as I hoped to offer children’s lunches to adults.”
While most customers are women in their 20s or 30s, sometimes middle-aged men come to the restaurant on their own. When the fried rice with chicken did not have a flag at first, many customers asked why, so the restaurant started placing a flag on the top of the rice six months after its opening. Itahara plans to open a second restaurant of the same style in Tokyo.
“Okosama lunch” is said to have dated back to “okosama yoshoku” (Western-style lunches especially for children), which were first offered at Nihombashi Mitsukoshi department store in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, in December 1930. The menu then spread to other department stores. “An official in charge of the department store’s diner at that time was asked by a business partner to use plates with a flower pattern, and the official apparently came up with the idea of creating a dream meal for children,” an official at Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings said.
Children’s lunches have become standard at family restaurants, but most of the restaurants restrict the meals to customers of primary school age or younger.
Children’s lunches for adults are also offered by restaurants operated by Toho Real Estate since 2008. According to the Tokyo-based company, there are 10 such restaurants in Tokyo and four prefectures including Kanagawa and Osaka.
Baby King Kitchen, a restaurant that opened in April 2009 in the Koenji district of Suginami Ward, Tokyo, promotes itself as a cafe where both adults and children can eat children’s lunches. Many parents eat at the restaurant with their children, and a small playground slide and a swing can be seen in one corner. Sonoko Kojima, 40, of the same ward, visited the restaurant with her 10-year-old daughter, Rin, and ordered an “Ohimesama lunch” (Princess’s lunch) for herself and a children’s lunch for her daughter. “We can have a good conversation while we eat the lunches and share some food,” Sonoko said. “The hamburg steak is delicious,” said Rin with a grin.
Nobuhiro Tanaka, who runs the restaurant, said: “When I opened the restaurant, I wrote down the dishes I wanted to eat. And I noticed that most of the dishes were included in children’s lunch.” Flags used for children’s lunches are made by hand, and the restaurant plans to start offering “Osama lunch” (King’s lunch) for men.
“Children’s lunches appeal to many adults, partly because now they can enjoy the dish with their own money and at any time – even if they rarely ate it when they were children,” said Mioko Hatanaka, an editor who has been involved in compiling
Children’s lunches, which look cute and include a wide variety of tidbits, could prove popular among foreigners as well. It would be fun to imagine a children’s lunch with the national flags of many nations standing side-by-side.