There's a restaurant in Shinjuku called '６年４組' (roku nen yon gumi) that serves authentic Japanese school food in dining rooms that look exactly like classrooms! It's certainly a very unique experience that offers the opportunity to learn what Japanese people grew up eating at school.
"The Tables Are Actually Real Elementary School Desks"
The main "classroom"
'6 Nen 4 Gumi' is a surprisingly large restaurant/replica school on the 9th floor of a building near Shinjuku's Kabukicho area. It's an odd place to find an elementary school, but as soon as the elevator door opens, that's exactly what appears. The front entrance is lined with Japanese-style backpacks, and a look into the main dining room reveals real elementary school desks pushed together to form dining tables! Sitting in the dining room doesn't just feel 'kind of' like being in an elementary school classroom; it REALLY feels like being in an elementary school classroom!
A line of backpacks in the entrance way.
In addition to the main classroom, there are many other, smaller, "classrooms" in the restaurant, including the 'Library,' the 'Music Room,' and even a blacklight-lit 'Planetarium!' The menu at '6 Nen 4 Gumi' is actually pretty broad and is filled with items that you might find at a normal izakaya. There's even an extensive drink menu that includes some fun science class-themed drinks (can you imagine drinking in an elementary school?) However, the really interesting items are on the nostalgic school food menu.
Trying the Food
'Meat Sauce Sofutomen' (¥400) and 'Kinako Agepan' (¥300)
Apparently, a classic item that pretty much any Japanese person will fondly remember eating at school is 'sofutomen' (soft noodles). I went with the 'Meat Sauce Sofutomen' and added an'Agepan' (fried bread) coated in kinako (roasted soybean powder).
Just like at school, the noodles come served in a plastic pouch which you then empty into the bowl of sauce (or curry, if you choose the curry sofutomen). The noodles are far from al dente, and aren't very appealing as they get shaken from the pouch in a big squishy hunk. However, the sauce smells very nice, which is promising.
After a good mixing, the dish begins to resemble spaghetti! The noodles are soft, but they actually do a good job of holding onto the flavorful meat sauce. According to my Japanese co-worker who also tried the noodles, the flavor is actually spot-on and quite nostalgic. The dish is actually pretty tasty, and I started to envy Japanese school children a bit.
The agepan was also interesting and tasty. I would describe it as a combination of a hot dog bun and a doughnut with a semi-sweet coating. It's warm, soft, deep fried, and tasty. How could you go wrong? The kinako (roasted soybean powder) topping was delicious, but there are 11 other flavors that can be ordered, including cocoa, strawberry jam, salt, and cinnamon. This is apparently another staple of Japanese school lunches, so don't miss trying it if you go!
A school lunch wouldn't be complete without some milk, so I made sure to get one of those, too. You can have the milk plain, or add a packet of powder flavoring to it called 'Miru-meku' which can turn ordinary milk into banana or strawberry or (in my case) coffee milk!
'6 Nen 4 Gumi' is located 3 minutes from the East exit of Shinjuku Station or Seibu Shinjuku Station. It's on the 9th floor of the Shinjuku Square Building (next to Don Quijote), so look for the sign on the bottom floor. The restaurant is very large, so it's great for a group of any size! Check it out next time you're looking for a unique experience!