Graduation: It’s All Over After Jr High

This past weekend (March 10ish) Junior High students from all over Japan graduated.  I find it pretty interesting how big a deal is made over these ceremonies.  They provide a unique insight into Japanese Culture, and provide a chance for better understanding between East and West.



School in Japan

In Japan, school is mandatory only through Junior High.  In the West this would mean 9th grade, so the graduating Jr. High kids would already be in High School in most of America.  Since High School is not mandatory, those schools are not required to take everyone.  That means there are entrance exams.  For a long time, High School tuition was paid for by families, though recently, in Okinawa at least, Public High School Tuition became free.

Most students attend local schools with the same group of friends from kindergarten to Junior High.  This means they become extremely comfortable with their peers, even though problems can always arise.  High schools, however, tend to be more focused, so students will begin separating to go to school that focus on their strengths or goals.

Entrance Exams

High School Entrance exams are difficult.  Students spend months preparing, studying, and interviewing.  Often they will attend special schools called juku to study for the tests after their regular school is finished.  The tests will determine which High Schools they will be allowed to attend, and sometimes that will determine which Universities as well.

The tests are such a big part of junior high life that third year curriculum leave ample time for review and test preparation.  It also leads into a year of high stress and study for the young students who often give up many of their hobbies and after school sports.  All of the pressure leading up to the end of the school year needs a release, and the graduation ceremony is one way for students to finally relax, and also say goodbye.

The Ceremony

I’ve been living in Japan for four years, and have now seen 5 ceremonies.  They differ from year to year, yet despite the wide geographical separation in the schools, there are a lot of similarities.  Part of this is because teachers in the same prefecture (state) change schools every 1-5 years.  This helps blend how major events, such as the graduation ceremony, are conducted.

  1. Student Entrance – students bow, and walk to their seats
  2. Opening Words – Usually the Vice Principal
  3. Student Speech  – Words from a few students and the reveal of artwork representing the graduating class that will stand for the next year.
  4. School Song
  5. Principal’s speech
  6. Diplomas – after students receive their diplomas they sometimes make a speech at small schools, or give a note to their parents.
  7. Special Certificates – students are recognized for outstanding achievement.
  8. Speeches and Songs – Speeches are given by local important people from the town, board of education, PTA, student body, and graduating class.  First and Second years sing ‘Ume-wo akiramenaide’ (don’t give up on your dream).  3rd years sing ‘tabidachinohi’. Later everyone sings ‘saiyonara’ (goodbye).  Of course, these songs can be changed, they just seem to be the common ones.
  9. Presentation to Principal – Usually a monetary gift from the students/parents that the principal announces will be used for the students.
  10. Closing Words – Vice Principal
  11. ‘Hana no michi’ – The flower road.  Students and parents make a human corridor and fling confetti as the graduates leave.  They are usually given flowers and other gifts as well.


A common aspect of either the graduation or the celebration afterward is a slideshow showing students through their three years at school.  All the major events are quickly relived.  Many students laugh, some cry.

After the ceremony itself is complete, things tend to become far more local.  At my first Junior High, the island was so small that each family threw their own party at their own house.  Teachers, family, and friends would then go house to house for food and drinks and to congratulate the graduates with presents.

This year, one of my schools cleaned out the gym after the ceremony and food was brought in.  Together performances by the teachers, boys, girls, and their parents were put on as everyone celebrated together.  Each community has their own way and traditions.

On the small islands and communities these celebrations are even more important than larger areas.  Here, the students know each other better than anywhere else since their class sizes are so small.  More so, their graduation marks many of their departures for high school.  For those on small islands, this can often mean they will be leaving their home of 15 years to go live alone or with relatives and study at schools with very different populations.

More on Graduation

For a very few, graduation from Junior High means entering the working world  For many more, it’s a new step onto a path with the beginnings of direction.  For all it marks a great accomplishment and change.  Unfortunately for them, their celebrations are short-lived.  Since the Japanese school year begins April 1st, they will have scant time as graduates before they are thrust into the lowly position of newbies again.

*Faces have been intentionally blurred to protect students’ privacy.