As with almost anything that is found in both the US and Japan, school in Japan is almost totally different from school in the US as I experienced it. I recently attended a local elementary school graduation and found it to be a wonderful microcosm in which we can observer this truth.
Japan is a nation of groups. So much of Japanese culture revolves around and can be witnessed through defined social groups. As such, entering in to or exiting from such a group requires great ceremony. I will be focusing on one of the exiting ceremonies.
The ceremony started with the 6th graders, the most senior members of the group, being led in to the gym by the 1st graders, the youngest generation. The young helping the old. The 1st – 5th graders sat facing the 6th graders, their elders. The younger looking to the older as examples. The 6th grade performed the school song and the 5th grade performed the same song directly after they finished. Every other grade had prepared a musical skit to thank the 6th graders for their time at the school. Showing respect for senior members of a group. The 6th graders then thanked each grade below them with small gifts for each student. Expressing gratitude to younger group members for their assistance. Finally, the principal thanked the 6th graders and told them how wonderful the 5th grade performance was. You may be asking yourself, “Why not tell the 6th graders how well they did”. The answer lies in the fact that it was the 6th graders’ job to teach the 5th grade this performance as they had done it last year for the 6th grade class above them. By recognizing that the 5th graders’ had performed well the principle was saying that the 6th graders had obviously done their job well. The old shepherding the young. I hope that my readers can enjoy this little slice of Japanese culture. Should any of my old professors be reading this, I only ask that you not email me grades.