Thursday, March 01, 2007

Turning them loose...

Friendship songs. Speeches aplenty. Confetti showers. March 1st is Graduation Day in Japan and Chatan High School passed its third year students into the brutal world of minimum wage work and overdue bills with the best of them.

Thanks to Taiko-sensei, I actually had a very good idea of what was going on throughout the ceremony. The three hour ceremony. The students walked in to a rousing rendition of a song in the Okinawan dialect called "Thank You, Mom," parading under balloon arches. (Although Taiko and I hummed "Pomp and Circumstance" a bit) Some of their little legs could barely keep pace with their classmates, but eventually all classes were seated in their rows, although 3-5 was struggling a bit with figuring out their seating arrangements.

So, without futher ado (and because it is next to impossible to package three hours of pure joy into a small little blog entry), here is a list of the highlights.

1) You would have thought we were at the Louvre. With dramatic James Horner music playing, the curtain to the stage was gradually raised to reveal the Class of 2007's wall art. Last year showcased a rainbow thing that had stayed up all year and it was nice enough. But (and I'm not being sarcastic here) this effort truly is a work of art. Here's a picture in all its glory. Pretty impressive.

2) Then it was time for the National Anthem. It should be relatively easy for a foreigner to get the hang of standing up out of respect (remembering those Thailand movies and standing to the anthem before the feature film). Thankfully, though, I was properly warned in advance that in Japan the Teacher's Union is refusing to stand for the national anthem because it is nationalistic to the empereror and was used during those bleak days that were WWII. It reminds them of the darker times and so while everyone else in the gym stood up, we all remained in our seats. Taiko-sensei told me I could stand if I wanted. I politely declined social suicide and rebelled with the rest. Apparently this has been going on for years. You can check out a small article here.

3) The songs were another highlight of the day. The faculty and students struggled through the school song. I believe it was the first time they had ever heard it. Based on how teachers have recently begged me to take them away from Chatan in my suitcase, I can imagine the lyrics must touch their heart and spirit. There was a song from the first and second-years dedicated to the graduates called "SMAP" by Orange and apparently the only part known of that song was the refrain. Same with the graduate song of "Best Friend." Both songs sort of went mumble mumble mumblemumblemumblemuble... pause... Besto furendo. I couldn't even hear the choir sitting directly behind me.

4) I imagine I showed a distinct look of panic when my translating teacher went through the list of speeches for the "official" ceremony. There were at least nine, but each speaker must have been told to keep it under 5. Taiko translated the student speeches and one in particular was quite good. There is a boy who is going to university next year, always says hello, is ultra-polite, and is just one of those kids who you can tell will be successful. He gave a speech to the teachers and mentioned his homeroom teacher his first year who passed away last year. He got teary saying that you should always express gratitude when you feel it before it is too late. And he wishes he would have told this teacher "thank you." Amazingly done. However, as a note, all the speeches were pre-printed in the bulletin given to everyone. At least I could try to guess where we were and how much longer until it was over.

5) The awarding of diplomas took up the bulk of the time and involved the homeroom teachers calling out the names of students. The women teachers were wearing kimonos and the principal handed each student gigantic certificates (suitable for framing). Each student had to bow at least four times and they apparently have not embraced the bowing as much as the elders because they were pretty sad attempts and some of them seemed downright disrespectful. One student had to pause before his certificate was given to him for an announcement. I asked later why he was so surprised. He was announced to be the 10,000 Chatan graduate. I hope he won a free dinner at Sizzler for that.

And that was the first ceremony. Yes, there were two. The second was run by the Student Union and was casual (and shorter).

1) The young man who spoke of his homeroom teacher had been spending tremendous amounts of time in the teacher room working on a video for this part of graduation. And once again, like at the stage festival, it showed ingenuity, humor (which I could tell even without knowing exactly what was being said), and general creativity. The twenty minutes passed quickly and soon it was time for the candle ceremony.

2) The homeorom teachers each lit a candle from a giant kanji character on the stage that can mean either heart or mind. They passed the flame to the first students who passed it back and so on. All of this was done to rather awful versions of "Ave Maria" (felt like I was at Midnight Vespers) and "Con Te Partido." If you know Con Te Partido, you know how it has a huge crescendo at the end. At this point in the song, students all raised their candles towards the center. It was slightly moving, but would have been more effective with Andrea Bocelli singing and not this lame chick they picked.

3) Two of the crazier boys in the class then decided to start a new tradition of throwing jackets in the air on the count of three. Thankfully, I still had room on my memory disc to capture the 1st Annual Coat Toss.

And then - finally - it was time for students to parade out. As I walked out of the gym, I noticed many white faces/families in the crowd, which still strikes me as bizarre. Did I mention that by now it's 1 and I still haven't had anything to eat except my morning toast? And everyone knows how I get when I start to get hungry...

Everyone was standing around outside waiting for the graduates to emerge and are loaded down with candy chains and flowers. Some of them almost became targets for my ravenous appetite.

After at least thirty minutes, the graduate emerged to some music and a downpour of confetti thrown off the balconies. It was much more fun to watch the kids on the balcony chucking confetti and having it catch in the wind back into their face.

I walked into the office thinking, "YES. LUNCH!" but was then informed that there were at least 45 minutes of cleaning and then food would be brought around 2:30 or 3:00. I slumped in my desk, moaning about my low blood sugar, and attempted to keep busy until our group lunch/dinner/snack/prison meal. I am exaggerating. It wasn't that bad. The food was decent, although I didn't each much in anticipation of my other free meal (see upcoming blog entry). Graduation Day 2007 wasn't quite over for me...


Carly said...

"A rittle resson about what's light and long"

Nonsensical language at it's finest.

Or Japan has infiltrated Blogger and wanted to get back at you for talking about them behind their backs. ;)

Rachel said...

Ha. I guess you have a point. (As my dad would say, "At least it isn't in the middle of your forehead!)

I like the Japanese conspiracy theory. They are quite passive-aggressive.