So, before I even diverge on how this entry’s title translates to something that sounds like it came out of Yuna’s mouth in Final Fantasy 10, please allow me to turn my bitch switch on for a moment as I complain about the events that happened yesterday (then I talk about the good things that happened yesterday).
So, it is tax time in Japan. Now, as a foreigner I am entitled to get some of the money I paid to the Japanese government back because I am not under permanent resident status (this grand total comes to roughly $900+). So, yay! That is all great and everything and my work even provided me with a translation so I knew what to fill out on the form. The Kawagoe government also has a form in English that we have to fill out. Paper work. No biggie.
Now, here is where I begin to get pissed off.
So, we have to report in to the Kawagoe Institute of Education once a month while school is in session. We were supposed to go in last Monday, but I could not make it because I was teaching at one of my elementary schools (a full schedule of 6 classes). I assumed that we would not be doing anything important as the previous times we have been checking the same poorly translated lesson plans (I swear they have never corrected them even after we check them), so it would not be a big deal if I missed. WRONG! Despite my constant asking about tax information, I was not told that on that particular Monday we would be filling out tax forms and turning them into the tax office. To make things even better (read worse) I had to go in yesterday. While talking to my boss, he admitted that he had never filled out these forms before (there is a similar procedure for Japanese citizens). I asked him why and he said that the Institute has always done it for him. As he put it, “it is the job of the employer to take care of such things.” Now…I could be wrong…but if his boss does his paper work…doesn’t that mean that he should do ours? No matter, here is where I get really pissed. Despite my not having any real plans, I told my boss that I made a promise to meet some friends at 4:30 (this was mainly so I could avoid spending too much time after my work day ended). Well…despite that effort…I had to spend 2 hours waiting at the tax office and stood in 3 different lines because the staff kept claiming that they did not know how to handle such paper work. Then in 5 minutes (not exaggerating) my paper work gets the ok along with 4 other AET’s paper work. Then the staff member explains (for the second time apparently) that us foreigners do not have to come in with our employer because we signed the documents and use our hanko (hankos are soooooo important in Japan, but more on that later). So…why did I have to go with my boss and sit for 2 hours which made me an hour and a half late to my pretend party with friends? Maybe my boss wanted company? Wanted to torture me? Just for the hell of it? I have no idea. Needless to say, I was super pissed off by the time I got home.
End of bitch mode.
Ok, so prior to this lovely tax situation, I went to my jr. high school (Hatsukari Jr. High) like any other work day. However, yesterday there was a very special ceremony called sannensei wo okurukai which roughly translates to “the gathering for the sending of the third year students.” Here is where that Final Fantasy thing comes in. In FF10, doesn’t Yuna perform things called “sendings” where she is sending the spirits of the dead to the Farplane? Anyway, I think I kind of understand why the word send (送る) is used instead of separate (別れる).
At least for me, at graduations and everything, it is a time to say good bye to people (and a lot of those people you really do not know). At my jr. high school graduation, each grade stood up, the principal gave a nice little speech about what they did during that year and welcomes them to the next grade. Finally, the 8th graders stand up and give a short speech (my school was small). It may have happened and I just don’t remember it, but I don’t remember any of the kids in the other grades doing anything in our honor as 8th graders leaving the school and as their mentors. Now, back to this sending business. At all jr. high schools in Japan, they have these okurukais. What they are is a ceremony in honor of the 3rd year students who are about to enter high school. The gym is decorated and all the first and second year students make paper flowers, signs, and messages to their seniors (先輩 senpai). Each grade pay homage to the third year students by singing a song and some students give short speeches. There is a picture slide show of the third year students that shows their journey through jr. high, and all clubs and teachers make video letters to the third year students. In the end, they get a DVD of everything to take home with them.
Ok, I promise I will talk about that sending business now. To me, this okurukai is not an event where you say good bye, but rather an event where you look back on the impact each student has had on the faculty and students. Furthermore, it shows the soon to be graduating students how much they have grown and how much they have accomplished since entering jr. high. In this way, the school is able to send students on to the next stage in their lives and the third year students are able to pass down their senpai status to the second year students (this is also done symbolically with a short flower giving ceremony during the okurukai). At least at my jr high school graduation, everyone seemed so separate and I am not sure any of us really felt like mentors to the younger students, so us graduated meant that our only familiar faces were going to disappear from campus. In America, we do not have a senpai-kōhai (senior – junior) relationship established. In Japan, this relationship is very very important. Senpai is roughly equivalent to the western concept of “mentor”, while kōhai are roughly equivalent to “trainees”. In a Japanese school sports club, such as a baseball team, the kōhai are usually expected to perform various menial tasks for the senpai including washing clothes and cleaning. The kōhai may not be allowed to play the sport at all or have only limited opportunities to do so until they become senpai. More than simple seniority, senpai implies a relationship with reciprocal obligations, somewhat similar to a mentoring relationship. A kōhai is expected to respect and obey their senpai, and the senpai in turn must guide, protect, and teach their kōhai as best they can. Senpai/kōhai relationships generally last for as long as the two people concerned stay in contact, even if the original context in which the senpai was senior is no longer relevant – this means you are in this senpai/kōhai relationship forever. It is a bond that does not break.
When one class graduates from a school, not just their familiar faces are gone, but their guidance and protection will also leave. However, now the second year students have learned all they can, so it is their time to take over as the senpai and they send the third year students on their way with a smile, knowing that it is not good bye forever. I think that this is the significance of the word “send/sending” in the title okurukai.
So, now I will walk you through the events of the okurukai complete with pictures and video.
So, first we all assembled in the gym while the third year students waited outside to be called in. Here is how the gym was decorated by the second and first year students:
the rainbow road that greeted the third year students.
all of those are handmade tissue flowers that make up the sign.
here is the student band that plays the music for the third year student’s entrance and exit
On cue, two first year boys opened the doors and allowed the third year students to enter:
I totally cried during this part.
After, the school principal gives a speech along with some of the second year students. These are pretty much just formalities to say that the okurukai is about to begin. The principal’s speech is more about asking the students to reflect on their three years here and to enjoy their remaining days as jr. high school students because they can never get them back. There was about 10 minutes of speeches before the first year students were asked to get ready to honor the third year students.
ok, so the recorder song is not very good, and their singing is only slightly better, but they are only first year students. At least they are cute?
After, the second year students are asked to honor the third year students.
They are a little better than the first year students.
After, the handicapped class did a few songs and a dance for the third year students and they gave an adorable speech about the meaning of friendship that made a few third year girls cry. After all the songs, they played the video letter to the third year students. It was really cute, and all the younger students really put a lot of effort into making them. Then it was time for the slide show and some of the pictures made me crack up because the third year students looked soooo young! I was amazed at how much they change in only 3 years’ time. After this, it is time for some more speeches and, finally, the third year students say their thank you to the school through song.
amazing how different just one year makes for singing.
Then it was time for that flower ceremony between the third and second year students. As a final message of congratulations, this giant ball’s string is pulled to reveal a message to the third year students: あなたならできる・限りない夢を三年生 Because it is you, you can do anything. May you have limitless dreams.
Then there was a short speech by the second year student who will become the student body president in the new school year and the third year students then exit the gym in a similar fashion to how they entered.
I was really trying to keep back the tears at this part of the ceremony.
All in all, I thought this was a very beautiful ceremony and it made me wish that we had a similar relationship established with our student in schools in America. That way, when we leave a school, not just our face is missed, but our personality, spirit, influence, and being is missed. Not only by the teachers who have become accustomed to teaching us, nor our classmates, but to every student in the school. Maybe I am thinking too idealistic because I was really moved by this ceremony, a ceremony that has probably just become routine in Japanese schools, but it just showed me how unified a school can become when it looks back on how much any given class will be missed.