Graduation season is here! If you’re new to the way Japan works, the school and fiscal year begins in April and ends in March, so most graduation ceremonies occur on a Saturday at the beginning of/mid-March.
If you ever become an ALT, or are dispatched to teach at any kind of public or private education institution, chances are you’ll be invited to at least one graduation ceremony. For the most part, they’re your average affair, but Japan does a put a few of its own twists on the occasion.
Female homeroom teachers of the graduating class might choose to wear hakama or kimono, but everyone else in attendance will be dressed in a black suit. For men that means a white collared shirt with a white necktie, and women should wear a two piece suit or a suit suitable for a Japanese job interview. Every year there’s always a few foreign teachers who don’t get the memo or choose to ignore it and embarrass themselves. Don’t let that be you! 😉
Elementary school students without uniforms will usually dress in a children’s suit (boys) or a plaid skirt with a white blouse and blazer (girls), but all other elementary school, junior high school, and senior high school students will attend in their school uniform.
Japanese university students wear suits or hakama to their graduation.
Most assemblies and ceremonies in elementary, junior high, or senior high school are held in the school gymnasium, and graduation ceremonies are no exception. Cartloads and cartloads of folding chairs will be rolled out to accommodate students, teachers, and guests. As a teacher, your job is to stand up and bow at the right times, like after different speakers make speeches or during the singing of the national anthem.
The whole school, or usually at least the previous grade, will be assembled to send off the graduating class with speeches and songs. Junior high schools have a choral competition in the months leading up to the graduation ceremony, and often the songs chosen will be done in this style. Some awards might also be presented as well.
After the ceremony, teachers (including the ALT) are expected to help clean up. It’s also a good time to socialize with the graduating class to make some last memories or take pictures with students. In the past when I was an ALT at elementary and junior high schools, I would often help out, chat with students, and then leave after most of the students had already gone home with their families. Some schools might expect you to stay longer. High schools generally hold their graduation ceremony on a Saturday, so if you’re not a direct hire ALT you probably won’t be required to attend.
Most university ceremonies are held at a ceremony hall on campus or nearby, and there will be a lot of partying afterward. 😉
If you have the chance to attend one during your stint in Japan, I think it’s interesting if not only just to compare the differences between your country’s and Japan’s. 🙂