"Dress formal. Don't wear bright colors. Actually don't even wear blue. And don't laugh too much. This is a serious day!" - My Japanese teacher Nakano sensei (whom I love dearly and laugh often with) giving me advice before attending my high school's graduation ceremony.
On Graduation day I made sure to dress as professionally as I could and headed to school excited to experienced my first Japanese graduation. I walked into the morning teachers meeting and noticed how lovely all my coworkers looked in their dresses and suits. There was manju (rice cakes stuffed with sweet beans) with our school mascot Eagle Cap printed on top waiting for us on our desks. The manji were "red and white" which are symbolic colors in Japan for celebration.
When Kawamoto walked through the doors of the English office my mouth dropped!! STUNNING. I didn't know this before, but all of the female teachers who have senior homeroom classes dress in Kimonos to celebrate and honor their graduates! Kawamoto sensei said she went to the salon at 5am to get her hair done and to get her Kimono properly wrapped (usually the putting on of the Kimono can take more than 1 hour!)
"Graduation" in Japanese is a looooong word...7 kanji that basically reads "Sotsugyoushiki" try saying that 5 times fast!
For some reason, Graduation is held on a Tuesday morning. It is held in in the school arena where a red carpet is rolled out and chairs are perfectly lined up for the students as well as the parents to sit behind them. Usually only the parents come to the graduation ceremony (no extended family) .
Some of the mothers came dressed in their lovely Kimonos!
The ALWAYS impressive Brass band did an incredible job playing music for the ceremony.
The event started off with the Principal walking in with a bunch of special guest following behind him such as Kashiwa International Relations board members (KIRA) and Principals of other schools.
The first year students sat in the bleachers on the second floor with their teachers while the second year students and graduates sat down on the floor. The third year teachers all sat in those chair on the left...and lucky for me I was able to roam around freely upstairs taking photos. I say lucky for me because if you sit in those chairs down there you have to have extremely good posture for 2 hours and stand up and bow accordingly!
Next, all of the homerooms walked in with their teachers leading the way. Homeroom classes are important in Japanese school systems and they are labeled in alphabetical order from 3A, 3B, 3D...3I...skipping a few letters and then eventually ending with 3S which is called "S class" because they are all the sports students! 10 homerooms in total.
Once all the homerooms walked in, each class teacher went to the mic and announced each student's name. When their name was called, the students would shout out "HAI! (YES!)" and stand up.
What really impressed me the most about the graduation ceremony was the bowing. I knew bowing was a part of Japanese culture (aka every time you meet a new person or are introduced to a large audience) but never have I seen it to this extent! The students would all stand up on command, bow in perfect unison, and then sit down on command. They bowed for every speaker, every award given, every class welcomed, etc. It was incredible!
Also, there was NO clapping. Literally, ZERO clapping the entire event. I had to stop myself a few times from almost throwing my hands together in applause! *once again another reason why I was glad to roam around and not sit in the teacher section*
Our gym was a great place for the ceremony and everything came together nicely!
Included in this 2 hour ceremony were a lot of speeches. One speech was given by a student where he started crying and almost made me cry when he said (I'll paraphrase) "thank you to all our mothers who made our bento everyday!" AWWWWW. At that moment I saw all the moms pull out their handkerchiefs and pat their tears away.
Finally...the students were announced by class and exited with excitement. The third year teachers stood towards the back and gave them high fives as they walked out.
After the ceremony, the students all headed back to their designated homerooms where they had one last talk with their homeroom teacher and spent the rest of the day signing yearbooks and each others' uniform shirts!! (What a rebellious move against the system!)
I really had an amazing experience witnessing my first Japanese Graduation ceremony. After most of the students left and things settled down, I had a good conversation with my coworkers about the differences between Japanese and American high school graduations. I showed them photos of my high school grad with a stack of leis around my neck and a blue gown on. They looked at it in disbelief! They were shocked at the freedom and cheering style of American graduations, as well as our caps and gowns. I laughed thinking how my world seemed so interesting and foreign to them, exactly how their world seemed so interesting and foreign to me.
And that, my friends, is the beauty and amazement that comes when you immerse yourself in the culture of another country.