Sayonara to the future dropouts and leaders of tomorrow.
If there’s one thing my time in Japan has taught me, it’s this: graduation ceremonies in Japanese kindergartens are designed to do one thing, and one thing only – make you cry. From the very moment you set foot inside the gates, teachers are seemingly conspiring to make sure every one in the building is weeping by the end of the day. I’ve attended three over the years, and they are hard going.
Kindergarten graduation ceremonies in Japan are a huge deal. In the UK, you only have one graduation: and that’s from university. Over here, kindergarten, elementary, junior high, and high schools all have graduation ceremonies of equal size. In fact the graduation ceremony for my kindergarten last week was probably bigger than my own one at university.
A good deal of the mums arrive wearing kimonos and the dads are all fully suited. Kids pose for pictures outside the front gates and then go into the school to their assigned classrooms, where the homeroom teachers (also wearing kimonos) are waiting to see them for the last time. Meanwhile, the parents are herded into the hall and made to sit listening to uplifting yet sorrowful string arrangements. The kids file in one class at a time and then each go up in turn when their name is called. The music continues as the homeroom teachers call their students’ names while trying their best not to blub all over the place.
Not content that enough people are crying, the school brings out the big guns and makes all the kids turn to face the parents. They recite in unision a long poetic verse thanking their parents for all of their support. 600 kids at the top of their lungs. They then sing a song called “sayonara bokutachi no youchien (farewell my kindergarten)” to their parents as gratitude. By this stage everyone is a mess.
The kids I taught this year will go on to become scientists, artists, engineers, teachers and doctors. Some will be high school dropouts, others will go on to lead the country. No matter how big or small small a role we played as English teachers, we’ve helped shape their futures. And for that we can be proud.