Yesterday (Tuesday, March 1st) my high school held its graduation ceremony. The ceremony was actually quite similar to an American one, even though the school system itself is quite different. For one, there are only three years of high school, so students are designated as 一年生 (ichi-nennsei, first years), 二年生 (ni-nennsei, second years) and 三年生 (san-nennsei, third years). They still graduate at age 18, however, as they have an additional year of schooling at the elementary level. The school year in Japan is divided into three semesters. The first semester of the year starts in mid April and lasts until the end of July. The students then have a month long summer break, and start back up at the end of August. This second semester lasts until mid December. The students have a three week winter vacation, and then start the third, and shortest, semester, which runs from the beginning of January to March. The students have a three week spring break before the new year begins.
The ceremony took place at our school's gymnasium, and to be honest, I'm glad it's over with. Over the preceding two weeks students AND teachers had to do increasingly annoying tasks to "prepare" for the event. I spent four hours last Thursday picking weeds by hand from the areas around the gym, and spent numerous hours sweeping, wiping and cleaning everything else, no matter how unrelated to the graduation ceremony it seemed to be.
There are many particulars that must be adhered to when it comes to the graduation ceremony, as I discovered yesterday morning after entering the teacher's room. I had been told to wear formal clothes, i.e. a suit and tie. I went with my only suit, complimented by a white shirt and black tie. Feeling rather 格好いい (cool and stylish), I walked into the teacher's room and heard gasps. At first I was basking in the glow, thinking the gasps were indeed about how cool my suit was, but as the English teacher who ran to me explained, I had committed a massive party foul. It's evidently bad luck to the students for anyone to where a black tie to a graduation ceremony. Only white ties are acceptable. I tried to explain as nicely as I could that this information would have been extremely helpful to know beforehand and that there was nothing I could do presently, but fortunately another teacher overheard our exchange and let me borrow an extra white tie he had in his car. Apocalypse avoided.
The ceremony itself wasn't too painful. In fact it was easier than most American ones that I have been too. It lasted about 90 minutes and was filled with speeches, long moments of silence, a couple haikus (poems), two songs, lots of bowing and lots of standing. In fact there was so much standing that a student actually collapsed and took two others with him. Luckily it was nothing serious, but it interrupted the entire event and caused quite a commotion.
Even though I had known the third year students for only seven months (since I came over between their first and second semester during summer break), I was nevertheless sad to see them go. Most of the girls were crying, most of the guys trying to act cool but visibly touched as well. I guess this is the routine that every teacher in every country goes through each year, seeing the students that they spent years with teaching and molding eventually grow up and move on. Exciting, but sad. For me, I will in all likelihood never see these students again, ever. After the ceremony we were able to take group photos and hang out together in their classrooms before their last farewell tour of the school. Afterwards, I signed their yearbooks, wished them all the best of luck in the future and said good-bye.