School Entrance Ceremonies

You may have noticed an unintentional theme running through a lot of my posts lately.  Although it is April, things are starting afresh, in Japan.  Since many aspects of Japanese Culture are tied so closely to the seasons, a throw back to the long agricultural tradition for much of Japan, many of the events and happenings around Japan reflect the rebirth and growth so strongly symbolized by the Sakura blossoms that are working their way north.

This week, throughout Japan, new students are entering school as first years.  This milestone in their lives is marked by the Entrance Ceremony (入学式)[nyuu gaku shiki] at most schools. Nearly as important as graduation ceremonies, and nearly as formal, these ceremonies congratulate the students on their achievement, instill in them a certain level of respect and awe for their new position.  It may also help them jump into the closed group dynamics of schools in Japan by providing a communal experience for the entering class to have together.

The Ceremony

Nearly all levels of education in Japan have entrance ceremonies.  When I lived on a very small island, the major event was for the entering elementary first graders since the elementary and junior high was tied so closely together.  The kindergarten children had their own small ceremony as well.

On my new home, there are many elementary schools and three junior highs.   All the elementary schools have their own ceremonies, as do the junior highs.  The entrance ceremony is more important for the junior highs here because for the first time, students from different classes and schools are tied into one group.

Program (for Jr. High)

  • Opening by Vice Principal
  • New Student Entrance (parade)
  • School song and anthem
  • Principal’s Speech
  • Introduction of the New Students (they go up on stage in groups and their names are called.  The students raise their hands and call hai [here]
  • Speeches by head of Board of Education,  principal, parent representative, student body representative, and first graders’ representative.
  • Introduction of the school teachers and staff
  • Students march out and are introduced to their classroom by homeroom teacher.

More on Entrance Ceremonies

In Japan, groups are an important social dynamic.  These ceremonies bind the students together faster than more organic group processes.  Like any organization, such event help foster group identities while also reflecting the history and traditions of a place in a familiar way.

The beginning of school also marks the entrance of other new students as well.  Since so many parents change location in April (teachers, doctors, policeman, and government workers all rotate every few years), new students come in at this time.  If they aren’t in the first grade, they often have to introduce themselves to teachers, and then to the school during the beginning of semester ceremony (this took place on Monday).

On that small island I lived on, the elementary entrance ceremony marked the beginning of the students’ full-time education.  For the first time students got backpacks, would have tests, and really begin learning.  It was such an important event that every family hosted a party as a way to encourage their new students and ask for the support and care from teachers (in Japanese there’s a phrase – yoroshiku onegaishimasu – that English never seems to quite match).

Over all, the ceremony is an interesting way to start the year and if nothing else give the flowers grown for the graduation ceremony one last hurrah.