The Japanese school year is from April 1st through March 30th. Many changes happened during the end and the beginning of the school year. I’ll touch on the beginning of the school year in a later blog.
My 3rd grade students (9th graders) graduation took place in the middle of March. I missed it last year because I was sick, so I was really excited to go this year. It was held in the school gym and only the parents (mostly moms), PTA, staff, teachers and 2nd graders were present. I really loved the 3rd grade class. They had this really kind and gentle energy about them, which is interesting, because that was true at Sugano JHS, my other school from this past fall.
The principal was dressed in a tuxedo with tails.
All of the teachers wore black suits or dresses; none of the teachers wore a kimono, although sometimes teachers do wear them. There were some speeches from the principal and PTA and everyone sang the school song. The homeroom teachers called out each of their students’ names and each student stood up and yelled “hai” (yes).
The students had to stand-up, bow, sit-down and repeat this at least 20 times during the ceremony. It was impressive because they did this in perfect unison.
One of my favorite students, Eri gave the good-bye speech. She is really sunny, bright and enthusiastic. She wept throughout the entire speech. I couldn’t understand a lot of it but her heartfelt emotion really came through to me.
Later, the homeroom teachers stood in front of the class and were given flowers. At the end of the ceremony, as the teachers stood in front of their students, row by row, the students stood up, bowed and yelled out “arigato gozaimas” (thank you), and then marched out. Students, teachers and parents were crying and that’s when I completely lost it.
After the ceremony, the teachers, the 2nd grade students and parents lined-up on either side of the school terrace, a kind of pathway that leads to the exit of the school. The brass band played music as the 3rd graders and their teachers ceremoniously marched out of the school while we all clapped and cheered. Some of the 2nd graders were balling. It was really moving.
Unfortunately, my camera died and I didn’t have any extra batteries, so I didn't get any pictures of the exit procession or the picture taking session afterwards with many of my students and their parents.
I think in order to understand the emotion behind graduation; I need to explain the Japanese school system and the relationships among students and teachers further. In Japan, junior high school is required but high school is not. Students must take entrance exams to get into high school. They go to different high schools throughout Himeji or in another city or some choose to skip high school altogether and go straight to work. I think the Japanese junior high school graduation is similar to our American high school graduation because it might be the last time that the students get to spend time together.
It’s difficult to describe the relationship between the students and teachers and even among the students. The student/teacher relationship seems parental in nature. Students are very close to their homeroom teachers and to each other. Homeroom teachers make home visits, meet with the parents for conferences, provide moral/ethical instruction and help to guide the student through each school year.
Students don’t change classrooms; they spend all day in one classroom, which is their homeroom. Teachers visit the homerooms to teach various subjects. The students also eat lunch together in their homeroom and clean their homeroom during cleaning time. All school sports activities, music activities, competitive events and everything else during the school day is separated by homeroom.
Also, throughout junior high school, pretty much the same group of teachers works with the students for the 3 years. The students are at school from 7 or 8am to 5, 6 or 7 pm. They are there on the weekends and during vacations for club activities such as baseball, volleyball, kendo, band, art, etc. A big part of their life is at school. When I ask students what their hobbies or interests are, it usually centers on what they are doing at school. It’s like a second home. So you can imagine what it must feel like to graduate from junior high. It's a big step.
Congratulations to the Masui JHS and Sugano JHS class of 2007!