Another late post, but I really wanted to write about this as it was a notable experience and a cultural piece of my time and work here that I couldn’t forgo mentioning.
As I mentioned in my post about graduation ceremonies in Japan, the Japanese school year ends in March and begins in April. With any beginning or end, there is a great deal of ceremony and celebration around these endings and new beginnings. With my placement being at both a junior high school and kindergarten, I was able to experience the beginning and end of compulsory education here in Japan (children here are not mandated to attend senior high school, though more than 90% do).
Junior High School
Returning students ceremony
One thing of note is the new school year begins somewhat staggered. Returning students begin a day or so before the incoming class. For example, in Junior High School, the 1st years who became 2nd years and the 2nd years who became 3rd years started April 8. And yes, there was a ceremony for them. At this ceremony, they were congratulated on moving on (which I found interesting considering that you don’t actually have to do anything beyond be enrolled in the school and age to move on; you don’t even technically have to attend or get passing marks) and their classes and teachers were announced.
Schools are set up quite differently in Japan, and as I mentioned teachers are moved around schools without any say in the matter. So while of course the English teachers continue to teach English and the math teachers continue to teach math, they do not know who their home room students will be or necessarily what grade they will teach (it just so happened at my school that the teachers moved along with their classes, with most of the 3rd year teachers becoming 1st year teachers). Also of note, this is only announced to them less than a week before the students start, which effectively means they are planning for a new school year, often with new curriculum, in a week’s time. Needless to say, they were quite busy during “spring break”.
New Student Ceremony
On April 11th, one “school day” after the returning students came back, the new student ceremony was held. Parents attended and new students were filed in by class, in a set up that was very akin to the graduation. But the youth and freshness of the new students was apparent throughout the ceremony when juxtaposed with the uniformity and maturity of the graduating class. The new students responded more quietly and out of sync, their bows were disjointed and they required a great deal of prompting from their teachers. And that is absolutely expected and appreciated considering their age, that they’re in a completely new environment with new peers and new adults. I mention it purely because for me it really demonstrated the changes that occur in the students throughout their junior high school years (which here takes place from age 12-15) and how much cultural shaping takes place for them during that time (I’d bet the 1st year’s bows and responses would still best a group of graduating high schoolers back in the U.S.)
The students came in wide-eyed and clearly nervous. Their new teachers lead them in and out of the auditorium, announcing their names to which they responded in their prepubescent high-pitched voices “Hai!” Kocho-sensei (the principal) offered words of congratulations and encouragement and welcome. The best part – after the ceremony they returned to their new classrooms to gather their things and go home! Talk about an easy first day 😉
Yochien (Kindergarten) New Student Ceremony
Since I am only at the Kindergarten once a week, I did not see the returning student ceremony but was asked to attend the New Student Ceremony, which I’ve come to understand is only second in important days of the year to the graduation. The kindergarten welcomes in 4-year-old students, and I wondered how this would look compared to the graduation of the 5/6 year olds just a few weeks prior. I have been so blow away by how coordinated and organized they are able to get kindergartner so I was really excited to see where and how it all begins.
To my delight, it was exactly what you’d expect from trying to organize a group of 4 year olds who had never been in much of a structured setting. I wouldn’t quite say it was chaos, but it wasn’t far from it. The first thing I noticed is that the returning students don’t attend. I’m not sure if this is a logistical space issue or a strategic way to make the day a little easier on the staff (the younger class did not attend the graduation ceremony either). And similarly to Junior High School, new teachers are introduced and their classes are announced.
Where things differ, greatly, is the behavior and demeanor of the students themselves. True to being 4 years old and starting school, students clung to their parents (some parents had to sit alongside their students for comfort), they cried, they were completely distracted and often missed bow cues and were generally not paying attention. The adults pushed through and kept to the program as best they could in spite of the uncooperative student body, and fortunately for everyone the ceremony was pretty short and sweet. I couldn’t help but giggle as I watched the uniformity of Japanese customs attempt to be imparted on out of control 4-year-old students.
Although in some ways the ceremonies can become tedious and repetitive (and there are a lot of ceremonies in the last few and first few weeks of the school years), I find that I have really enjoyed them. Although I don’t completely understand what’s going on due to the communication barrier, I have been really fascinated to see the culture at play. I think the ceremonies show some true culture pieces as they highlight things that are important within the culture and demonstrate the ways that those things are passed on to the next generations.
Thanks for stopping by! Get home safe 😉