What? The school year is over? Already? But itís only late March! The new school year starts the second week in April?! This is madness or is it?
This news came as a big surprise to me. I always thought school year starts in September and ends in June no matter where you go. Then I realized, this is Japan and not the United States. They do many things differently here than they do back home. I donít know why the school year ends in mid march and starts up again in early April but Iím sure thereís a darn good reason for it. I also heard that a new fiscal year for businesses also starts anew around the same time. I think itís a pretty interesting difference! Last week, I attended the graduation for the 3rd graders at one of the Junior High school I teach at. The graduation ceremony was definitely different than those in the States, especially from what I remembered of my own Junior High graduation LONG ago. I think the biggest difference was the mood of the whole event. It was solemn, serious, and somewhat emotional. First of all, graduation was held on a Tuesday morning around 9:30AM in the gym! The entire student population was in attendance with the graduates sitting in the front. In addition were the guest speakers from who knows where and the family of the graduates. Mostly in attendance were probably mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. I didnít see much male family members or siblings in attendance. Where were the dads, and the brothers, sisters, and cousins? Hmmm..Tuesday morning, go figure huh?!
All the teachers were also in attendance but we were all dressed in black. I only have a black suit anyway. However, all the male teachers were wearing a white dress shirt with their suit while I wore a blue dress shirt. I really felt out of place for awhile but then I rationalized that I was a foreigner and I should stand out anyway. In the gym, we always wore special indoor shoes that we would never wear outside. Usually it would be shoes with a rubber sole. I guess itís to prevent the wooden gym floor from being dirtied or scratched up. At graduation, it was interesting to see the family members of the graduates bring their own slippers from home. It was funny to see them all dressed up really nice and then you look down and theyíre wearing these bright color fuzzy slippers.
There wasnít much clapping during the graduation but a whole lot of bowing. The only time the audience clapped was when the graduates entered the gym and left the gym. Every other time was bowing, which made the ceremony very quiet. Before a guest speaker spoke, he or she would first bow to the principal and the teaching staff, then to the Japanese flag on the stage, and lastly to the graduates. When the speaker finishes the speech, it was awkward for me not to clap because nobody else did. The speaker just bows and the audience just bows back. Bowing was key to the ceremony. For the student to go on stage to accept his/her diploma, I counted that a student bowed about 5 times. Now multiply that by about 200 students. Thatís a lot of bows! Like I said earlier, the event is somewhat emotional because most students will not be attending the same High School(HS). Itís unlike the States where we all knew that most students would attend one of the HS in the same school district whereas my students are going to various HS in different towns and cities, some as far as an hour and a half away from where they live. Students from all grades make speeches and tears start rolling. Even some of the female teachers gets choked up and tears starts falling.
Once the ceremony was over, non-graduating students along with some teachers would line both side of the path leading to the main gate of the school. Graduates would walk down this path and start giving away some of their belongings or little gifts or letters to the underclassmen. When I say belongings, I mean things like buttons on their school uniform, their name tags, their gym clothes, and even their shoes. The person who gets them would be extremely gratified. This giving practice is a Japanese tradition where the graduates, who are seen as mentors, gives the underclassmen, their mentees, things to remember them by and give them words of encouragement. I think itís a very cool and interesting tradition. For the boyís uniform there are many buttons in the front but the second button from the top is a very special button that they cannot just give to anybody. Since this is the button that is closest to the heart, that button belongs to their special person or somebody they like. Cool huh? Overall it was a great experience. I just wish everybody didnít look so sad and solemn. When some teachers asked me what graduation was like in the States, I told them it was like a celebration of accomplishment and people were happy and laughing. They thought that was very strange!