Japan is big with ceremonies. This is specially true when you work at a school. I understand opening and graduation ceremonies are important as a way of celebration for crucial moment for students who are coming and going. I personally do not like ceremonies. Ceremonies in Japan took especially a long time. Attending them, you witness, while a principal is giving everyone a speech after so many others have beforehand, other teachers who are simply there are dozing off. You can totally tell they are because their heads are bobbing up and down so very slightly as you watch them from sitting in the rows behind them. I, myself, have slept a bit during one of the school ceremonies. Surprise surprise.
This wasn’t the ceremony I slept at. It was my first student graduation ceremony to experience in Japan. It was pretty special for those who were graduating. I enjoyed it myself to extend, yet at the same time, I found it to be cold and long.
Students were nervous about the ceremony but also the teachers. Especially the third-year homeroom teachers. As part of the ceremony, the homeroom teachers had to call out the role for the last time. I remember talking to some of the homeroom teachers and hearing them say how nerve they were to misread or forget someone’s name. How adorable.
For students who are attending the ceremony and celebrating the end of high school, it is no doubt a special day for them. I saw 300 plus third-year students walk into the gym in their homerooms behind their homeroom teacher one group after another. Everyone clapped as all 9-groups of third-year students reached their seats. The gym was occupied with all students at the school, plus teaching staff, parents who could attend as well as certain members from the PTA board and the Prefectural Board of Education (BOE). The school brass band occupied the second floor balcony area as there not enough space for them to situate themselves on the first floor. I sat towards in the teaching staff area. Because of the weather, it was freezing cold. Hence, the comment earliar. You would think that given it is the end of winter, it should of warmed up a little, but it didn’t. The ceremony took about 2 hours or a bit over. The awful or most boring part were the speeches. There were many speeches throughout. One for the principal, one for the PTA, one each from various members of the BOE and more. I lost count really. I was quite bored during the speech times. Before a speech began, the staff and students or either one, when instructed to, needed to stand up and bow to the spokesmen and then sit back down. For the speaker gave their speech, when they approached the stage, they would bow to the flag of Japan that was on the stage. Each time the person finished their speech and before they walked down, we had to stand up and bow to them, then sit back down. I made one mistake where only students were called to stand up and bow; and only myself from the teaching staff seating area stood up with them. The ending was very nice where the brass band played the school anthem and the third-year students sang all together one last time. Once that was done, all the teachers were instructed to move out to the entrance of the gym and stand on two sides of the pathway. I stood towards the end of the pathway and couldn’t see what was going on in the gym, but I could hear the students’ footstep as they made their exit out of the gym and officially get sent off. As the students walked by, all teachers clapped and say congratulations. I saw so many students cry – girls and boys. It was quite funny to see some of the tougher boy students cry too.
New students opening ceremony
Another recently ceremony I attended was an opening ceremony this week for the new first-year students who will were starting their high life school this year. They attended along with their parents. It was held in Spring so the weather was a lot warmer. No second or third year students attended this time. First year students came to school with their parents and came to the gym. They would look at the placed up posters which told the student which class and their student number they were for that class. They would check in and then be seated with their homeroom class. Not knowing who these students were, you could feel how nervous they were. They looked so pure, so naive, and so innocent. All 367 of them.
The new homeroom teachers had to call the role for the very first time in front of the teaching staff and parents. Each student who got their name called out would stand up and bow to the principal who stood on stage. A number amount of speeches as expected by various members of the PTA and BOE. Here is where I fell sleep and was actually suffering for insufficient oxygen. I think I may have passed out for about 30 seconds to be honest.
First year meets all
The day after the first year had their opening ceremony, it was time for them to meet this upper classmates. In Japanese, upper classmates are called “Senpai”. It was a basic ceremony where the first years came into the gym while everyone clapped to welcome them. A few speeches were given. One of the cutest moments was when everyone, mainly the second and third year students sang the school anthem. Each and every student put their arms on around the shoulders of the two people right next to them and sang. Even the homeroom teachers joined. Quite a magical moment.
Compared to my opening school and graduation ceremony for high school, I definitely feel that Japan appreciates these moments more. Not saying that it is anything less in Australia or my school for that matter. But given the effort and level of attention, it does indeed feel more celebrated in Japan. The number of parents who came was amazing to see. The fact that members of the BOE also came signifies how important this is. I was pleased to experience these ceremonies in Japan. The speech making part remains my least favourite part but that’s unavoidable. I guess some traditions aren’t meant for everyone.