Of course to follow up my last post on Graduation, the inevitable end of the school year was soon to follow. For me it almost seemed to end abruptly and at the same time mundanely. I had taken some time off near the end of the school year due to having visitors (more on that in a post coming soon), and a lot of the end of the year was spend testing/with me not in the classroom. Top it off with half days for the students and it sort of just… happened.
One of the biggest differences in the end of the school year in Japan versus back in America (other than the time of year) is the teacher shuffle. In Japan, teachers don’t get to choose what school they work at- they’re assigned. So this also means that they can be moved at basically a moments notice. What this looks like is the last 1-2 weeks of school, the Kocho-sensei (principal) meets with some teachers to inform them that they won’t be returning to the school next year and wil be moved to X school instead. Now I supposed this wouldn’t be so bad except there’s about 1.5 weeks between school years. So basically you have to pack up your desk, say your goodbyes, attend all the end of the year functions, transition to and be ready to start a new school year within as little as 2.5 weeks. Which would be stressful if you knew it was coming but I can’t imagine how much more challenging it would be if you had no idea you’d be relocated. New commute, new coworkers, new students. It’s crazy. Although, for some perspective, when I talked to one of the teachers about the difference in America to this philosophy, that teachers could choose where they worked and, if they wanted to, they could work at the same school for their entire life. “A little bit boring, ne?” was her response. Fair enough.
The closing ceremony carried on very reminiscent to the opening ceremony of the term when I arrived. The principal addressed the school. The school song was sang. The part-time teachers who were leaving were ushered on stage to give short speeches of goodbyes and “ganbatte”s to the students (it’s unclear to me still why only the part-time teachers gave goodbye speeches and not the full time staff). And just like that, a year of schoool was brought to a close.
It seemed somewhat anticlimatic, but as I would learn it was just part of a series of goodbye ceremonies that would continue on over the next week. On the night before the teacher’s last day (March 30) we had our sotsugyokai (graduation enkai, or graduation staff party), a formal affair with a set course meal in a nice little restaurant in Kurashiki’s Bikan district. Once everyone had arrived, the leaving teachers were paraded into the room and sat at a long table at the front of the room (much like a wedding party would sit at the reception). They were ushered in by clapping and having their names announced. Once seated, the drinks were brought out and it seemed to be a competition over who could fill up the most glasses throughout the night. The staying teachers rushed to kneel before the leaving teachers’ table and pour them beer or tea and savor their last relaxed not-at-work conversations they would have. The drink filling competition didn’t just apply to the leaving teacher’s glasses either, I couldn’t seem to take more than a sip of my drink before someone appeared to refill it. It was quite a thing to sit back and take in. After a few of the courses came and went, one by one, each departing teacher was brought up while a staying teacher read a speech they had written of their fondest memories and deepest thanks for the time the leaving teacher had spent at the school. Some were full of laughter, others full of tears, but all were full of deep gratitude and warmth, something you don’t need language to be able to understand. Although the night was long–3.5 hours– it was a lovely Japanese tradition to witness.
The following day at school (which, not surprisingly, most teachers took the morning off of), the departing teachers finished packing up their things and preparing to leave. At 4pm, teachers and students both current and graduated (this year and years before) lined up for a hanamachi (which I was actually able to read on the board!!) for the leaving teachers. They proceeded out to the clapping of their colleagues and former students, and of course the band playing the school song.
And so marked the end of the school year. Since I’m still here and didn’t get to see the start of the previous year, it came and went quickly and I think I’m still processing it all. (I’m sure my exhaustion from all that’s happened these past few weeks hasn’t helped.) It’s been exciting to see how things change and evolve here, and although I’m so sad to see many of the teachers go (one was an English teacher who I spent a lot of time talking with at school and really enjoyed), I can’t help but also feel the Japanese sentiments of spring and the new beginnings that come along with it.