“And if the job you want is as a professional skier in the Japan boom-time 80s, then you’ve come to the right place….”
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Tree: Kodemari (in the rose family); Flower: Rannan Kyurasu (no idea what this flower is in English…could it be a Peony?); Leaf: Steel Glass
Tree: Higanzakura (a type of cherry tree); Leaf: Nyusairan; Flower: Tulip
The preparation began weeks ago. They met in the gym, row upon row of gangly, pimple-faced, dandruff-haired, smiling students. And they bowed. They bowed until they had it right. The timing, the straightness of the back, the angle of the head, the perfect placement of the hands. (Stuck to your sides, if you’re a boy; folded demurely on your thighs, for the fairer sex.) They practiced standing in unison, sitting in one quick movement, like a military maneuver, like a drill-sargant’s dream. They practiced the correct way to walk to the stage. Which direction to turn first. How to receive their diploma, fold it, place it under their arm. The right loudness and clarity of response after their names are called forth. And it payed off: Wednesday’s Ceremony for the graduating 3rd grade students unfolded without a hitch.
Parents attended (of which there were more mothers than both parents), as well as representatives from all the neighboring schools, and even one so distant as the Vice Principal of Kazama’s sister school in Kyoto. The dress code was strict – black suits for everyone and light colored (white or silver) ties for men, unless as a female teacher, you elected to dress in traditional kimono and hakama, the ceremonial over-skirt reserved for graduation ceremonies, that was once worn daily by students and teachers alike. For two hours, we sat, stood, bowed, and sang in the freezing cold gymnasium. At the end, there wasn’t a dry-eye in the house. The 3rd grade girls sniffled and wept throughout much of the ceremony, and I even spied some trembling lower lips and chins on some of the fellas.
The PTA, Graduates and Teachers After-Party just continued the waterworks. Each student and his or her parent(s) were called forth, and the students had a chance to thank their parents for such things as raising them, ask their good favor for the coming years, and exchange a note from child to parent and a small gift from parent to child. Not one trio didn’t mist over. Oddly (and culturally) enough though, none but two of these heartfelt messages ended in a physical embrace. In most cases, bows were exchanged and both parties crept off stage looking embarrassed. Where were the hugs? Where were the reverse words of pride and encouragement?
Throughout the day, though, I was struck with how good these kids are and how difficult transitions are for people everywhere. Often, my time in Japan makes me realize the differences in culture, but it has also opened my eyes to many of the unifying themes of human nature – these themes that transcend country, culture, gender, education, religion, and language. While in many ways, it seems silly to make such a big deal out of a Junior High School Graduation (they’re only 15 after all!), it makes sense in that this juncture is really the first time in which this group of young people will part ways. While in America, our “moving on” chasm opens with the transition from High School to College, many of these kids will go far away for High School. The small group of people and place with which they’ve spent the first fifteen years of their lives will soon be replaced with new and different people and surroundings. So here’s to onward and upward to my graduating 3rd graders, and to transitions big and small in their lives, your lives, my life… And to Spring, which is on its way.
Hime-mizuki, Kotto, Iris – using the full base of the vase and side-ways branches.
Today, March 3rd, in Japan is Girls’ Day, called Ohina Matsuri. It’s a celebration of girls and daughters, especially for their health, growth and happiness over the coming year. In a country that is sometimes fingered for being a *little* misogynistic, I am happy to give credit and respect where it is due.
As a little girl, we had one of these beautiful sets given to my mother from her mother (as is the custom). Unwrapping the delicate dolls every year, their porcelain faces each painted so differently from one another, their clothes so sparkly and tactile, I remember being mesmerized – and not a little unafraid of doing damage to their fragile hands. They each came with their own miniature hats, musical instruments, kendo swords or archery bows, and tea ladles. Like Christmas probably was – and is – to other young children, the house during March always seemed magical and festive. I was happy to see the sets around here this year, and that my awe and general impression hasn’t changed much since I was seven.
To celebrate, last night I attended an Ohina-sama Party at the house of my ikebana sensei. Presented in her beautiful and spacious genkan (foyer) was a gorgeous vase of peach blossoms, the official Ohina-sama tree. (You might remember this from last week’s ikebana post.) Yet again, the youngest by about forty years, the ladies gathered to marvel at our Sensei‘s dolls, eat sushi, and drink ama-zake (sweet, unfiltered sake.) The evening kicked off with everyone singing an Ohina-sama song and what ensued was general gossip, ruckus, and merriment, as at any ‘Girls’ Night Out’ the world over. As I’m constantly reminded in small and unsmall ways, some things are different. And some things are the same.