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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Graduation

I had the golden opportunity of attending an elementary school graduation. Yes, an elementary school graduation. The leap from 6th to 7th grade is a time to celebrate. In the U.S., it’s not a big deal. In Japan, the students start preparing weeks in advance for the big occasion. I think the most time consuming was the rehearsals. Getting a bunch of students (1st thru 6th) to sit still and be quiet for a couple of hours was no easy task. The production required that the younger students recite several songs and messages to the older students. I guess it was a way of saying goodbye and thank you. The 6th grade class was ushered in like football players. They had several rows of arches, decorated in paper flowers, for the graduating students to march under before being seated in the auditorium. Everyone stood in applause before the students were seated. With great precision, the clapping stopped and the long and dry speeches began. My first impression of this event was the vivid colors of the flowers, potted plants, and decorations. The atmosphere was lively and happy. A pianist was playing an upbeat song to the rhythm of the students marching to their seats. I was anticipating a happy occasion. The mood changed dramatically as soon as the principal took the stage. A cloak of seriousness covered the room.
Each time a person approached the stage, they would bow to the Japanese flag. It was easy to tell that every move was well rehearsed. The speakers were stiff and acted as if they would be shot if they made even a slight error. Their speeches were neatly folded and placed into envelopes. Each speaker carefully pulled the envelope out of his black coat pocket and began his speech. It sounded more like a drone. I honestly believe that if they smiled, their faces would have cracked. After each speech, the paper was neatly folded and placed back into the envelope and back into his breast pocket. The speaker carefully backed up from the podium, turned, and bowed to the flag. Then he turned and lightly but deliberately walked down the steps from the stage and bowed to the audience. As for the content of each speech…I can only guess. The drone sounded the same to me. This repeated fifteen arduous times. I’m amazed that the students didn’t fall asleep. I guess since the students had to bow before and after each boring speech, they had to stay awake. Besides, they had lots of practice trying to stay awake.
The presentation of the diplomas allowed the students a chance to get up and stretch their legs. Each student had to get up from their assigned seat in a certain way and time. They would bow to the audience and then carefully climb the stairs to the stage. The students waited for their names to be called by their teacher and then proceeded to the podium. Once there, they had to stand a certain distance from the principal. The principal read what was written on the diploma and then carefully (with both hands) offered the document to the student. The student deeply bowed and grasped the diploma (with both hands). I think it was important that the diploma was held with both hands above the student’s head while deeply bowing. Try to do that sometime…it’s not easy. The student lightly bent the diploma in half (easier to carry) and proceeded down the stairs. Once at the bottom, the student carried the diploma to his parent that was seated, following the lines painted on the floor. No smiling was allowed! The parents cried after the diploma was handed to them. The whole ritual had the feeling of a funeral. Good grief! After all of the diplomas were handed out, and all of the speeches were given, it was time for the ceremony to come to an end. To my surprise, the flowered arches were resurrected and the cloud of gloom and doom disappeared. The pianist played a lively marching tune and the audience stood in applause as the smiling students marched out of the auditorium.
I was allowed to sit in the front row along with the teachers. Since I was an ALT, I sat at the end. This was fine with me. Since I had no idea when to stand, bow or applause, I followed the rest of the teachers. This plan worked fine until near the end of the ceremony. The microphone was moved closer to the visiting parents. I had to turn my head so that I could not see what the other teachers were doing. The sobbing parent gave a long and heartfelt speech to the teachers. I sat and politely watched her with interest even though I had no idea what she was saying. After the speech, I turned to find that all of the teachers were standing…oops! I was the only one seated during the speech. I don’t know why someone didn’t tap my shoulder and say, “Please stand.” I guess everyone was nervous. As soon as the ceremony was over, I looked down and headed out the door to find a hole to crawl in. I called Erika and told her what had happened. She laughed and told me not to worry about it. Yeah right. That’s easy for her to say. Later, Erika called my boss, and she agreed with Erika’s opinion. My boss wondered if I was really an easy-going American or a boring Japanese. I tend to take mishaps seriously and I was emotionally scarred for the rest of the day.
George

4 comments:

  1. Don't worry George, it will be the first of many experiences like that! I think that it is important for the Japanese to understand how we feel though and hopefully next time someone will realise that tapping you on the shoulder is far less embarrassing for you than letting you sit through it. Congratulations on sitting through your first graduation ceremony! I have 3 kindergarten ones to attend this year.... fun, fun, fun!

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement. I'm sure I'll have lots of embarrassing moments. The good part is that I'll have more things to blog about.

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  2. This is awesome, mish seeing you guys and the dogs. This is Cindy....I can see george just loving this....and the guitar playing. Small world, glad your enjoying yourselves, and you're so happy. Give the doggies a hug for us

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    1. Will do! Please keep in touch and we miss you too.

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