I don’t know how it happened but today’s the day!
Yay! It snuck up on me and I also didn’t quite realize how sad it would be… We’ve been practicing for the ceremony for the past two days, and classes for my Jr. High 3rd years have been over for about a week and a half. Through it all I’ve been fine, but I was crying with the best of them when those kids walked out of the gym!
The ceremony itself is very similar to those I’ve experienced in America; the playing of the national anthem, calling of names, speeches and music. The main difference I noticed was the silence from the crowd. Not one noise outside of the occasional sniffle or the furious clicking of cameras came from the parent section. Of course, when the graduates filed out at the end the sniffles came hard and fast from every direction (including the kids), but that’s still a different ball game from the air horns and screaming and jumping I’ve come to expect!
The music in the ceremony was very sweet. One of the last songs was begun by the graduates, the rest of the students joined in on the second verse (another difference, all of the students were there to watch), and the teachers came in so the whole school was singing together for the final part. And when the graduates left the gym, they walked to the singing of all the younger students wishing them well via song. Needless to say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including mine, and though many of the boys tried valiantly to pass it off as hay fever, it was a rather weak disguise.
I was so puffed up with pride, they’ve all worked so incredibly hard this past year, and I was so full of love for the people they are I can’t imagine how the teachers who’ve known them from the start must have felt! They’ve watched them grow and know them better than I ever will. Regardless, I’m so thankful to have been a part of such an important moment in these kids’ lives. Seeing them with their families and being dragged over to meet them was also an interesting experience and a fascinating opportunity to get a glimpse into their lives. Your guesses as to who has the serious parents or who has the hippies or the farmers or the suits are confirmed or (radically) disproved!
That’s something I love about living in Japan versus just coming to visit; I’m a part of this community and a part of the lives of these kids. I know them and their parents want me to come for tea and say “hello” in the market (it’s super sweet when they use what English they have on me before falling back to Japanese). I’m involved and included in the good times and asked for help in the bad times. I’m able to see the culture up close and truly become enmeshed in it. When you simply visit a place, no matter how often you interact with locals, you aren’t adopted into the culture and the community as thoroughly and whole heartedly as you are if you are seen as a permanent resident, as a neighbor. Living in a foreign country opens your eyes to so many new ways of thinking and doing things, you’ll really never be the same. I say it a lot but I really do highly highly recommend it to everyone!!!
On another note, Graduation Day also marked the 4 year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. It was felt really strongly here in Hokota, the fault ruptured down to offshore Ibaraki after all, and the stories I hear from my coworkers are scary, to say the least. The school had everyone stop what they were doing and we observed a minute of silence at 2:46PM, the time when so many lives changed forever. The strength and resiliency of the Japanese people never ceases to amaze me. Recovery is still ongoing and will be for some time to come, but from everything I’ve witnessed since moving here and everything I’ve heard, I am completely confident that Japan will get there and will be 10 times better than ever before!