Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Graduation Ceremony

So we're now approaching the end of the fiscal and academic year in Japan. I'm in my last week of school. As of Friday, I will finish my contract. Since I haven't signed a new one for next year, I'm a bit nervous as to my future. The company says they want to sign a new contract with me, but my instinct says don't count your chicks before they hatch. Well, Friday night is the end-of-contract party, so I hope they break it to me beforehand, so I don't waste money going to dinner with them. But seriously, I'm sure things'll sort themselves out.

I've gotten over my sinus problems. The medicine I took worked wonders. I'm still trying to catch up on my sleep, which is why I skipped the gym tonight, but between writing this post and uploading photos to Flickr, I'm falling behind again as I write. The writing has to be done though, otherwise it just builds up. So all of my photos since I returned from the US have been posted, so check those out. Just scroll down and click on the big ad on the right.

Last Friday was the graduation ceremony at one of the schools I work at. We all headed into the gymnasium for a commencement ceremony filled with speeches and bowing at all times. I sat with the teachers on one side at the front facing sideways, not at the stage. We faced the graduating students, who filed in to continuous applause. I thought my hands would go numb by the end, which they partially did. Or maybe that was the cold. There was no heating besides hundreds of warm bodies. On the opposite side of the gym, facing sideways like us, were a bunch of honchos from the board of education. After the arrival of the 3rd-years, the vice-principal got up and introduced the VIPS, each of whom stood and bowed at us, requiring us to return the bow, seated. Then came some more speeches and the handing out of the diplomas. As each student prepared to head up onto the stage, they bowed at us, and we sort of half-bowed back. There were more than 200 graduates that day. I think my hips still hurt. After some more songs and such, came speeches from the principal, vice-principal, and various student leaders.

One stereotype that we have of Japan is that you're supposed to hold in your emotions. Kids are permitted this, but once you get out of elementary school, I think society tries to effectively quash that. Guess it didn't work on these kids. I've never seen boys that age cry unless they broke a body part, but there were quite a few boys, and a ton of girls, just bawling. It was interesting because I noticed a few of them were the too-cool-for-school boys, ones that had reveled in taunting me in Japanese since I couldn't understand. Goes to show, at 15, they're still just kids.

There's a relationship called sempai and kohai. Basically, it means 'superior' and 'subordinate,' respectively, but Western minds have difficulty grasping it. I interpret it more as a type of adopted big brother/little brother type of relationship, which is usually formed between the students in a school club. The sempai mentors and protects the kohai, who in return lavishes respect on their superior. It's not always positive, as the sempai may spend more time teaching his subordinate how to make spitballs and disrupt class than how to get ahead in life. Typically westerners see it as easy for the sempai to take advantage of his poor subordinate, but that's not always the case. The kohai is free to up and abandon the sempai.

I mention this because after the ceremony, everyone mingled in the parking lot, saying goodbye to the 3rd-years. Especially packs of kohai, out looking to congratulate their sempai. Some of the 1st-years were in tears. I asked them why, and they showed me a clip-on tie. Evidently, receiving the clip-on tie from your sempai is a big deal, at least to 12-year olds. I ducked back indoors quickly since it was drizzling and cold. Just in time for my nice bento meal. I shelled out nearly $10 for a boxed lunch in which the most edible thing was the rice. These bento are made elsewhere and delivered, so any hot food has cooled and congealed. Yum. Nothing like cold fried chicken bits and a fish filet covered in a congealed, tasteless sauce. No wonder I've dropped 3 inches off my waist since I got here.

I'd meant to write more about last weekend, but I'll leave off here and pick it up (hopefully) tomorrow. Then you can learn all about the ramen museum.

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