March and April marks the end and start of the school year in Japan, and is one of the busiest times for teachers and students alike.
The end of March means the end of the school year when students need to be tested and graded with everything culminating in the graduation of the oldest students. This is usually all over in the third week of March, and although most Japanese teachers do not take their well earned break, it can be a chance for native teachers to have a week or so off. Perhaps enjoy some hanami?
Everything starts all over again in the first week of April with the start of the academic year - new students, new classes, new timetable, and even before the classes start come the numerous ceremonies associated with the end and start of the school year.
So let’s take a closer look at the ceremonies you will be expected to attend as a full time teacher:
*卒業式, sotsugyoshiki, Graduation Ceremony
These are held at all levels of school in Japan, even at kindergarten. High ranking members of staff make speeches, along with graduating and existing students. It is usual for the school song to be sung, and it is not uncommon to hear the Japanese national anthem. Teachers are expected to wear a suit at the minimum, and depending on the school rules they could be very strict about what colour or type of suit you wear.
*修了式, shuryoshiki, Closing Ceremony
The closing ceremony is held after graduation and is a chance for the remaining students to get together before the end of school. The principal of the school usually makes a speech, the school song is sung, and the school year is declared officially over.
*始業式, shigyoshiki, Opening Ceremony
The opening ceremony is the first meeting of all the school after the spring break and usually involves much the same as the closing ceremony. The principal will make a speech and outline plans and themes for the year, along with notable events to look forward to.
*入学式, nyugakushiki, Entrance Ceremony
The entrance ceremony is an official welcome to the school to the new students, the school song will be sung and speeches made about the beliefs and doctrines of the school. Students are usually told what is expected of them in the new academic year.
If you are a full time teacher in an elementary, junior or senior high school, attendance of these various ceremonies is expected. Formal dress is a necessity and it is often a good idea to ask your school exactly what the dress requirements are as well as the details of your role on the actual day. You may be expected to participate or contribute to the proceedings so it pays to be prepared.
Every school has a different way of conducting ceremonies and expectations from their teachers both Japanese and native. It is never a bad thing to be over prepared and attend functions even when not strictly necessary. This affirms your role in the school and shows that you are an active, enthusiastic member of staff.
Wishing you all the best for the new academic year!