Ceremonial Society


Japanese society has a certain formality about it. (Of course, the opposite is very true, which is a condition I have been considering writing about for a long time.) Elementary schools – being an important part of this society – take on this formality as well. Graduation took place on the 19th, but here we are a week later and we had two ceremonies and one assembly.

This week at restaurants or other schools, people kept telling me I had mistaken the name of yesterday’s main ceremony. Each time I told them that it could be a mistake, but I just copied it off the chalkboard in the school office as it was written!!! Each time people insisted that I must have copied it wrong. One of my pet peeves is when people who know me well question my veracity. People who hardly know me, I expect will project their own shortcomings on me, so I tolerate their comments as ‘ignorant’, rather than ‘insulting’. (Did I phrase that in an arrogant enough tone?) People who doubted me this week are people who have seen how detailed I tend to be and who know that I am a licensed shuji (習字) instructor. Since the kanji I wrote – 修了 – and what they thought was correct – 終業 – were considerably different I had to do my best not to get annoyed.

Vindication and education came when the Principal explained to everyone, the true meaning of the ceremony name and why it is different from the other ceremony. Shuugyou Shiki (終業式) could be directly translated as “End of Study Ceremony”. Today’s event was called Shuuryou Shiki (修了式) which might be translated as “Completion of Cultivation (or Mastery) Ceremony”. At the end of first or second term, the Shuugyou Shiki is held to acknowledge the closing of school and to remind the kids to stay safe and study hard until the next term starts. At the end of third term, all of the first through fifth grade students are advancing to the next level of study and its inherent responsibilities, so we use the more formal term. The first character, when used as a verb, is osameru (修める) which means “cultivate, master, or learn”.

Here are a few of the ceremonies we have at elementary schools:

  • Shigyou Shiki (始業式) Opening ceremony held at the beginning of each term.
  • Shuugyou Shiki (終業式) Closing ceremony held at the end of first and second term.
  • Shuuryou Shiki (修了式) Completion of studies ceremony held at the end of third term.
  • Sotsugyou Shiki (卒業式) Graduation ceremony held about one week before the end of third term. The last week of the school year, only first through fifth grade students come to school.
  • O-Wakare Kai (お別れ会) Parting ceremony held after the graduation ceremony for the sixth grade students to say goodbye to the lower grades. At most schools only the higher grades participate in the graduation ceremony. Last week, at one school all of the students participated, but the first and second graders had to run to the bathroom several times.
  • Rinin Shiki (離任式) Leaving one’s post ceremony. Teachers are routinely moved from school to school. At this ceremony we explain to the kids that we still love them and encourage them to study hard.
  • Kansou Kai (歓送会) Send off party or going away party. This event is only for the teachers and involves a banquet, drinking, and speeches. Usually at the end of March.
  • Kangei Kai (歓迎会) Welcome party held for new teachers transferring to a school. Again: banquet, drinking, and speeches. Usually held at the beginning of April.
  • Kansougei Kai (歓送迎会) Combined send off and welcome party. This is becoming common practice because of the scheduling and finances involved in so many banquets.

I’m done with events until April 3rd, now hopefully I can take some breaks to find a new car, new house, and visit the otolaryngologist (耳鼻咽喉科医) about the loud ringing in my ears.


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