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Compulsory education in Japan ends after junior high school, when students are about 15 years old. In junior high schools, students spend their whole day (minus breaks) in one classroom (the teachers change classes in Japan). They spend all their time with the same classmates all year long and develop a very strong bond with those students. Graduation ceremonies in Japanese public schools (or the junior high schools that I saw) are very different from those ceremonies in the West. Even more ritualistic, longer, and just as, if not more heartwrenching.

To prepare for this event takes more than a full week. Japanese people are big on appearances and when city officials, parents and other visitors come to the school, the place is cleaned. I mean it. They even sweep the dirt. There are several rehearsals and music practices involving one or more of the three grades. These practices are taken very seriously.

The Japanese and school flags are displayed on the stage
Very somber city officials and other miscellaneous bigwigs

Before entering the auditorium, the teachers make sure that the students are all presentable. If anyone's hair is dyed, the teachers spraydye the rogue graduate's hair black. Once all the underclassmen, parents, and most of the teachers are seated, the music begins playing and the graduates begin filing into the auditorium, led by their homeroom teachers. Several speeches are made by the pricipal and one by the 3rd grade speaker. The class speaker accepts token gifts from the other grades for providing such good leadership over the years. When it comes time to give the diplomas to the students, the students are called one by one and they answer and stand. Once all the students in a particular class have stood up, their class representative approaches the principal. He/she bows as he reads off the address of the diplomas. The class rep accepts all the diplomas on behalf of of his/her class, bows to the principal and returns to sit with the rest of the students.

Music is, of course, a big part of the ceremony and the students and teachers all take part in singing several songs. Even the boys sing, if a little grudgingly. The lyrics are such that I'm confident most students in the west would consider far too silly to sing, but the Japanese do it, and well. Below are a couple of the graduation songs that one of my students translated for me.
Thanks again, Mayu!

"On the Day to Fly Off"

In the white light A mountain range sprouts
You will fly off to the end of the faraway sky.
To the everlasting blue sky your heart will quaver.
A bird running after freedom without looking back.
With all its courage on its wings, it will fly on a wind of hope.
Giving all our dreams to this huge sky.

My friends' familiar voice comes back to me all of the sudden.
That time we cried over a fight with no meaning
That day we hugged each other from joy.
All of this has passed away, but as we hold these memories
With all our courage on our wings, we fly on a wind of hope.
Giving all our dreams to this huge sky.

"Goodbye, My Friend"

Our hears shine to the color of the sky.
The morning shines even though we are sad.
The time when we have to say good-bye is coming closer
Goodbye, my friend
(I will never forget this day, never)
(I will treasure this day, forever)

The buds of the grass on this spring road are growing larger
The floating clouds are showing us the way to go
The time when we have to say goodbye is coming closer
Goodbye, my friend
(I will never forget this day, Never)
(I will treasure this day, Forever)

Now its time to say goodbye
Believing in our future, we will fly off
Believing in our young energetic energy (we will fly off)
To this large, large sky

Believing in our future, we will fly off
Believing in our young energetic energy (we will fly off)
To this large, large sky

After the ceremony is finished the students are led out of the gymnasium, again by their homeroom teacher. They are taken back to their classrooms where the individual students receive their diplomas and are given a few final words from their homeroom teacher.

When they are finally led out of their building, they congregate near the gates to take pictures with their parents and fellow students and to say goodbye to their other teachers.

A teacher leading his class out of the auditorium
Me with Junko and her very grateful mother

Some of my favorite students after the ceremony

A popular thing to do for graduation is to decorate one of your uniforms by weaving kanji into the fabric. Most are slogans thanking the school, certain teachers, or friends. Not too many teachers approve of this practice.

Two groups of happy graduates display their diplomas with pride

Once the teachers feel enough time has passed they herd the students out of the school. Once everyone leaves, the teachers go inside the teachers' room, relax, and congratulate each other on a job well done and for surviving another year.

"I can't believe they're letting you two graduate!"


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