Thousands of Miles from Home


The Graduate

High School Graduation in Japan, similar to any other corner of the world, is a momentous occasion. A ceremony marking the flowering of goals and aspirations of high school students as they progress to college or the workplace. Perhaps better described in the e-mail I received from my friend the night before the ceremony, "Graduation of JAPAN is an emotional." An "emotional" indeed!

I leisurely biked into the school around 9:30, right on time for the ceremony at 9:45. I was seated in the back of the large auditorium with the other first year students in my class. Second year students were seated closer to the stage, with empty chairs for the third years in the foremost section. Parents and other guests sat on the opposite side of the auditorium, next to the "distinguished guests." Teachers were next to the stage facing the distinguished guests. (In Japan you can always tell distinguished guests apart from the "masses" because of a very loud, large, and colorful flower and ribbon pinned to their lapel. At Rotary Meetings and School Graduations it's a sure thing)

Around 9:45 the doors to the auditorium slid open (most if not all doors slide in Japan) and to the obligatory performance of "Pomp and Circumstance" the third year students proceeded to their seats in the front. I spotted a lot of my friends including Kiyoto who had grown his hair out and put it in a perm (giving the aura of a Californian surfer) and Wataru with a great big smile. After all the students were seated, the curtain on the stage was raised, revealing a large podium under a massive Japanese flag. To the right of the podium stood a small yet impressive Bonsai tree. The atmosphere was decidedly Japanese.

When I begin to ponder high school graduations, I usually think of long ceremonies with a lot of name calling, clapping, and semi-tearful speeches. In contrast, Japanese high school graduation, or at least Tamano high school, was quick and to the point. The principal made a small speech congratulating the students followed by two speeches by the "Special Guests." Then two top students, one from each of the two courses (International and Regular) approached the podium to receive diplomas for the whole school. No name calling, just two students being recognized. The valedictorian and a top second year student then gave speeches recalling their time at Tamano High School. Both started crying toward the end, and I could see some teachers getting teary-eyed as well. At the end everyone stood, sang Auld Lang Syne in Japanese for reasons still unclear to me, and finished the ceremony with a rousing reprise of the Tamano High School song (which I stumbled through with the aide of a cheat sheet).

After the ceremony all third year students exited the auditorium to go back to their classroom and individually receive their diplomas. I stayed around to take pictures and check out the yearbook (of which I am trying to get a copy). I was stopped by the principal of the school and chatted for a while about the differences between Japanese and American High School Graduations. I'm always excited to talk with the principal because regardless of his comprehension of what I’m saying he always makes me feel well understood. So be it elaborate farce or my genuine improvement in Japanese, both are equally impressive.

During the rest of the day I whipped up some delicious latkes, applesauce, and a fresh garden salad for dinner. Tomoya was blown away and has requested I make latkes once a week. I told him it would probably kill him but he said he didn't care and that death was “an acceptable price.” Tomorrow is Hina Matsuri so for now I must arrange some dolls on a large set of stairs...


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