Saturday, March 27, 2010


It's springtime here, and springtime in Japan is synonymous with graduation. I had the pleasure of attending two graduation ceremonies: Takao Elementary and Nita Middle School.

Graduation is a big deal here in Japan. The ceremonies are very grandiose, complete with lots of bowing, long speeches, and many other formalities. Many of the teachers here were quite shocked when I told them most Elementary/Middle schools in America don't really have graduation ceremonies. The length and formality, combined with the fact that the ceremonies were held in unheated gyms in 40 degree weather, made the physical experience very unpleasant for me. At the same time, I was so honored to be the insider on an event that was so important to everyone around me, and tried to focus on that aspect. These ceremonies constituted a very singular episode of my life.

Another thing about graduation in Japan: it's not only the students who are leaving. In America, especially right now, teaching jobs are fairly difficult to obtain. BUT, teachers are allowed to stay at that position until it is no longer available or they decide to retire. In Japan, teachers are guaranteed jobs, but postings are determined by the Japanese Government in Tokyo. All teachers are required to do a two year posting at rural school and a two year posting at a school far away from their home. I think the maximum time you are allowed to stay at any one school is something like eight years. Many of my teachers live hours away and either make a ridiculous daily commute or get apartments here, giving up their family and home life for their job.

I was told to be wary that Japan has major staff changes in April, but I couldn't imagine it happening to me. I heard no news of change until the beginning of next week, and then news from all my schools hit me like a sack of bricks. My beloved supervisor (aka my Okuizumo mom) Mrs. Fukuda-san, is retiring. Mr. Kanetsuki, my Takao JTE (the slim man in the front row on the right of this picture) is leaving for a school in Higashi-Izumo. Mr. Okuda, the girls volleyball coach, is transferring to another middle school in Kisuki. And these are only the people close to me; there are many others leaving. Change has hit my world like a tornado, and I'll have to scramble to find my place again.

So when I look at the picture above, I have many mixed emotions. Takao is the school above all others that made me feel at home, a real member of their faculty. This was largely due to the extremely personable Mr. Kanetsuki.

I am awed and slightly saddened by the shuffling around of people's lives due to this system, but respectful of its benefits.

And part of has to laugh, because when I look at this picture I have to think of the Sesame Street song "One of these things is not like the others . . . "


  1. Are there only 5 sannensei at the school?

    At my schools as well a lot of changes are taking place...1 JTE is leaving now, and another in August for pregnancy. :(

  2. Yes, only 5 sannensei. In fact, the entire school only has 16 students so 1/3 the population is graduating . . .
    boo change