Japanese Elementary School Graduation Ceremony 2012

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March 16, 2011. Today I saw my first Japanese Shogakko graduation ceremony, or そつぎょう(sotsugyo), in Japanese. I had heard that Japan really values ceremonies, but hearing about it and seeing it first hand are two totally different things.

It was incredibly cool to look into the crowd and see some of the mom’s dressed in traditional hakama. Dad’s in suits, grandmothers in dresses, video cameras out in full support of their children, children who have an entire future ahead of them.

The ceremony began with everyone standing in unison, bowing. After being seated, parents, other students, and teachers looked on in awe as the graduating 6th graders ceremonially walked in pace by pace to the gentle crescendo of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3. The students came out dressed not in their elementary school uniforms but in the more formal uniforms of their new middle schools. The vast majority of the kids had on the same uniforms meaning the the majority of the kids from my elementary school would be funneled into the same junior high. There were some students, however, who had on different uniforms, meaning that they would be going to other schools, a few to other towns.

Yesterday I talked about how all the students and teachers pitched in to help decorate the gym for the graduation ceremony. At the start of the ceremony, there was a sound system malfunction that threw a kink into a perfect graduation blueprint. Luckily, one teacher is a piano whiz and at the spur of the moment was asked to play the piano accompaniment for the Japanese national anthem. After the everyone sang the national anthem. The sound system was working again, and everything went pretty smoothly from there.

The ceremony itself was, hands down, the most formal elementary school ceremony that I’ve ever seen. Each student was called one by one and each had to do three bows: the first bow to the students and parents, the second to the faculty, and the last to the principal and vice principal as the received their leather-encased, elementary school diplomas. Did any of you guys get a formal leather case at your elementary school graduation?

In addition to the ceremony being one of the most forma I’ve ever seen, it was also the most touching.

I am really glad that I learned the ninja “Sticky Tears” Technique. It’s a special technique than and an ancient ninja master once taught me. With this technique, you 91% of your weeping happens inside of your body, that ways only 9% shows up in your eyes, thus you end up with tears that well up (i.e.-sticky tears) instead ones that fall from your eyes.

I hate to say it, but I had to employ that technique for the first time in a long time today. During the initial speeches, everyone was just fine, it was your typical ceremony. But when the first through fifth graders sang a sayonara song to the departing 6th graders, I saw a few moms break out their tissues and handkerchiefs. The final selection by the sixth graders was a real tear-jerker. I’d say about twelve of the forty students were weeping openly during their last song at the school. It was like a tear contagion that spread all over the gym. Teachers were wiping their eyes. Even the principal and vice principal couldn’t hold back. I was okay for a while, but for some mystical reason, my eyes started to well up. I had to look up or look away to keep my tears from falling.

There were these three little first grade boys and one little boy saw the sixth graders all crying and he stared crying, too. He had two twin brothers sitting next to him (one on his left and one on his right). They were patting him on the shoulders to console him, it was cutest thing (ahem, in a manly kind of way).

I don’t know about you guys, but I didn’t cry at my elementary school graduation. There really wasn’t any need to. I can’t say I was emotionally vested in the ceremony. I take that back, I was emotionally vested, but the mood was more celebratory than anything. I really liked my teachers and made some great elementary school friend. The ceremony was quite simple and our graduating class was much larger than 40 students. With an elementary school that’s a lot smaller, you might imagine how much closer you are with your students, how easy it is to get attached to the kids and their personalities.

Today, for once I didn’t think about my financial struggles, about how little I make…because today…it didn’t matter. Today, I was just proud of my kids, seeing them almost grow up in a day, breaking from that elementary school cocoon and into their teenage years.

A big Sotsugyou Omedetou (そつぎょう(卒業おめでとう)) to all of my sixth graders!

Donald Ash

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  • Tom

    It’s always such a pleasure to hear about this side of your experiences, Donald! It’s so odd that you mention they had a problem with the audio for their ceremony – my college class was meeting to watch a documentary on the Fukushima disaster put on by the language department and once it began the volume was out! XD So after about three minutes, there were six intense, whispering Japanese people (two of them guests from the Miami embassy) all huddled around a laptop trying to work it out. Then – much like your story – my language teacher popped up and started getting everyone to sing songs, but luckily they got it together before we finished the Japanese version of “Doe, A Dear” XD

    Always a big, big fan of your site – keep it up, sir! : )

  • Waltlanta

    Great post. What a well captured sentiment.

  • http://www.intothesunrise.com Nanami

    Aww Donald-kun, I’m glad that you were as moved as the children. I think it’s a big thing to see your students move on. It sounds like a lovely ceremony ^ ^

  • Petaris

    It sounds like it was quite an impressive ceremony! Some of your posts really make me miss Japan. Unfortunately I can’t make the trip this year as I am looking for a new/better job and can’t risk having an interview while I’m away. I was starting to get a bit worried about you lately though as there hadn’t been any posts in a while, I guess you must have been pretty busy getting the students ready for the ceremony and with other things too. Glad to see new postings! Keep them coming, I pretty much live in Japan through you at the moment! :D

  • laiz

    Wow, my elementary school graduation was pretty much an assembly in the hall no decor or anything fancy like that xD but we did have our confirmation the same weekend and that was more festive?? I suppose coming from an all girls school :D so maybe that counted as our graduation. It’s really great though that they put in so much effort and make it into this mile stone for the kids, they’ll feel more mature and when they look back they’ll know it was a good acomplishment; kind of like the first step into the real world. No wonder you nearly cried :)

    Nice post! I am very happy I found your website/blog/thing :D

    • Donald Ash

      I’m happy you commented, laiz. Wow, that’s interesting how different our graduations were. Where are you teaching?

      • laiz

        It’s pretty culturaly diverse huh :) I don’t teach, though I hope to sometime in the future. I’m still a student searching for my calling and teaching might just be it so I appreciate your website with so much insight :D

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