Graduation at Hagishou

Yesterday, I was privileged enough to attend the graduation ceremonies at Hagishou Junior High, one of my favourite schools. Donning my tie for the first time in a long time, I cycled in the ever-improving spring weather to the 200-strong school South of Ichinoseki.

I didn’t really know what to expect from the ceremony. Graduations are a significant affair here in Japan and each transition to a new school level is rewarded with a graduation event. I don’t recall any such formal events marking my exit from elementary or junior high school, but here, they’re the norm.

Red and white fabric hung from the walls of the gymnasium while the heaters roared their warmth into the normally chilly space. The first and second-years of the school sang as the graduating third-years stoically filed into their seats. Speeches, songs and parchment presentations filled the schedule until all of the graduating class was positioned in tiers at the front of the gym with girls on the left and boys on the right.

There, the somber stoicism continued as the entire class recited a speech with each student completing a new line. And then the crying began’

As soon as one girl stumbled through her line as she began to sob, a trend was set. Few of the girls retained their composure and the graduation started to feel more like a funeral.

Next on the schedule was for all of these now sobbing children to sing together. Thus far, each of the songs echoing in the gym had been flowery, sentimental melodies laden with melodrama. You could easily visualize the videos that would play behind the text at karaoke for these tunes:

A young Japanese couple wistfully strolls through a park in autumn. Hand in hand, they gaze longingly at each other. They reach the edge of the park. The girl must continue one to leave the boy standing alone. Cut to a shot of their hands separating. Cut to a shot of the distance between the two figures increasing as the girl can’t help looking back on her forlorn former love. Cut to a shot the last leaf falling from a tree branch. Fade to black’

Of course these students are going to weep during such schmaltzy songs. Japanese kids eat this stuff up. So, while trying to sing what was undoubtedly some anthem for change and rebirth, the girls sniffed and sobbed forming a background noise like the hisses and pops of a dusty record.

The weeping youth eventually departed the gym, again ushered out by emotive melodies. The ceremony had finished and left me wondering when they actually got to celebrate this period in their lives.

Fortunately, a short time later, all of the kids were back in the gym for photos and their glassy eyes were now shining. Friends hugged and cameras flashed while parents posed with happy graduates. A good number of my students paid me the compliment of asking me to pose with them for photos and I flashed the peace sign with the best of ’em.

Of course, Toshie, the girl with the crush, was ecstatic to see me. All of her friends lined to get a shot of us together: Toshie and her future husband’

I mingled with the kids and even did a couple celebratory chest bumps. That doesn’t compare with Josh, however, he told me in an email later that day that his students managed to pick him up and toss him in the air. An impressive feat considering Josh’s respectable height.

The students continued their mingling outside as they bid farewell to their school and their teachers. More handshaking, hugs and photos ensued and waves goodbye with jovial chants of ‘See you!’ punctuated the day’s events.

What a gift to watch these people grow. These third-years have been some of my favourite students to meet. They’re an outgoing group and always made a great effort to communicate with me in English as well as teach me Japanese. I have so many great memories with them and I wish them all the best.

Leave a Reply