The day started with graduation, which went as you would expect. An excruciatingly boring ceremony (which I suspect was crafted on contract by the most cunning and sadistic ceremonial planners Japan has to offer), followed by all kinds of tear-laden farewells. I mean it really is brutal. On the bright side, it was great weather this year, much better than the rain last year.
After the ceremony, which no one really pays attention to (it’s impossible to count the number of parents sleeping through the speeches) the students and teachers return to their rooms for one final “kaeri no kai” or “closing meeting” which these students have had with the same teacher every day after classes for three years. The actual diplomas are distributed and the students get a chance to say a final word to the class. Then the teachers give their final words about how proud they are of the kids and they’ll miss them next year, which of course prompts any kid with a soul to start dropping tears all over their diplomas. After that, it’s the students’ turn to say goodbye to the teacher and the teacher’s turn to cry, and cry they did (well, most of them anyway). Imamura-sensei’s class (she’s the music teacher) got up and did a surprise chorus rendition of some moving song and it was Niagra Falls for her, baby.
Once all the meetings are done, the classes line up and walk out in procession (some more pics from last year are here for those who are interested) and that’s the end of that.
Oh, but my Day o’ Hell™ didn’t end there, no sir. The teachers were quickly whisked into the meeting room, where our special Graduation Day, $20 bentos were waiting for us…. but not before some boring speeches. The M.C., Sadasue-sensei went through called on each of the 3rd year teachers in turn, so they could say something about something. I’m not actually sure what the topic was because I had an unusually hard time understanding what the hell they were talking about. I don’t know if they were just using rare ceremonial speech or what, but I honestly couldn’t tell what each of them were talking about. It seemed to be sticking to the homeroom teachers though, one of which I am not, so I wasn’t too worried. I should have been because she eventually called on me to say… something.
The other teachers laughed when she did, like “Uh-huh, Scott’s gonna say something too, eh?” I perhaps could have come up with something, but seeing as I couldn’t understand the other teacher’s Japanese and thus was unable to decipher the topic, I just said, “Err, I can’t say anything.” There was some more giggling, more sympathetic, since my response was probably interpreted as me just being humble. Of course, this made my embarassing situation worse since I had to repeat, “No, really. I can’t do it.” And she eventually skipped me. Thanks dicks. This pissed me off for a few, obvious reasons:
- They laughed when I was called on.
- They’re laughter was justified because I had no clue what was happening.
I mean, for a culture that values the concept of “keeping face” so much, you’d think that someone would have considered for the merest of moments that the fucking gaijin might, just might, have difficulty coming up with something meaningful to say on the spot like that, especially when he doesn’t know what the fucking topic is. Yeah, everyone was spot-on in helping me not look like a jackass there, cheers. What really irks me is that it wouldn’t have been a huge deal had someone mentioned this beforehand. It would have only taken me 5 minutes to think of something to say and then figure out how to say it in Japanese. I was severely depressed for the rest of lunchtime.
After this I was looking forward to going home and killing some stormtroopers or something to alleviate my depressed rage, but it was not to be. Instead, I was informed, the 3rd year teachers would be having a private graduation ceremony for a student that had been absent for a few months because he had been “pretty sick”. This seemed like a good cause, so I had no problems sticking around for a bit.
We went to the nice meeting room and lined up on one side of the long table and waited for the student. The door eventually opened and in walked the student and his mother. “Pretty sick” my ass, whatever this kid has, he’s on some pretty harsh chemothereapy because he didn’t look good at all. I don’t know most of the kids’ names at school, but I didn’t even recognize his face, so I couldn’t remember who he was exactly.
This next scene is just sad.
So as soon as he steps in the room tears just start dropping out of his eyes. A couple of the teachers, upon seeing him, also start crying silently. He walks over and takes his place, standing in front of the Principal and Vice-Principal. The VP says the opening remarks, just like the big ceremony a few hours earlier, then hands it over to the Principal who says a few more words, then presents the diploma and bows.
There’s applause all around and everyone is invited to take a seat at the table to chat a bit. The kid still hasn’t stopped crying. So now there’s a row of teachers flanking one end of the long table, with the crying student and his mom sitting on the opposite side… in complete silence! One of the teachers let out a nervous laugh and said, “What should we talk about, huh?”
Oh my God, I would have paid so much money to be anywhere but that room at this point. I mean, the kid can’t even look up to face the teachers, he’s barely holding it together looking at his lap. To make matters worse, a few of the teachers are weeping and sniffling too. Come on, people, have a little class. Ikeda-sensei eventually breaks the silence and tells him we’re all happy to see him and glad he could make it to get his diploma and congratulations. She then passes the buck to Hirai-sensei, who I think was this kid’s homeroom teacher before he went into the hospital. Hirai-sensei tried to shake his head and decline, but she pressed him to “please say something”
In a tiny voice he said, “Congratulations on graduating. I’m happy to see you…. that’s all.” His head then dropped and he closed his eyes tight enough to hold back the rivers that were trying to break through.
There was about another minute of silence before the mother said that the boy had prepared something to say as well. Our spirits lifted and everyone stood up, as he prepared to say what he had to say. He got out, “Thank you for today…” then broke down. Then got a hold of himself again. The broke down. Teachers are crying right and left, this kid is crying, his mom is crying, and I’m wishing I were dead. This just sucked. Eventually Ikeda-sensei saved the day with “Well, we can understand what you want to say, even if you can’t say it.”
After that, the student went to say goodbye to the Principal and the rest of us were dismissed. Now, I can understand how difficult this was for everyone, but for God’s sake, can you at least keep your composure for the student?? I mean, if this kid’s as sick as he looks, which is going to help his state of mind more, familiar smiling faces or a wall of silent tears?? This whole thing brought me down even further than the lunch thing for the following reasons:
- I felt bad for the kid, because he made the effort to come from the hospital to graduate and the teachers that are supposed to be strong for him are sitting there weeping to his face like he’s already dead.
- I felt bad for the teachers because this is one of their students, and to see him like this just sucks, no gettin’ around it.
- I felt bad for me because this was one of my students as well, but I didn’t know his name and because of his illness I couldn’t recognize his face, so he was more or less a stranger to me, even though he almost definitely recognized me. Not to mention that I don’t go to each class often enough to even notice that one face had gone missing. This poor guy has been really sick for six months now, and I didn’t even know he was gone. How shit is that?
So my day was sucking impressive amounts of ass at this point. I decided to go hang with the bouncy office ladies that I always have fun with because they’re cute and funny. I walk in and one of them, Iida-sensei is red in the face with tears. What the fuck is it with this day!?! My first thought was that it was graduation, but that couldn’t be it, because she never leaves this office, hence she doesn’t know any of the kids, hence she doesn’t care. I ask what’s wrong, but they joke around the topic and soon we’re talking about something else.
Eventually I go back to the teacher’s room. I’m there for about ten minutes before the other 3rd year teachers are handing me a flower and saying, “Come on, let’s go say goodbye to Iida-sensei.” What??? Turns out somebody caught wind of the fact that this is her last day on the job but she hadn’t told anybody. Grrrrrr.
So with flowers-in-hands, we all make our way down the hall to the office to find… no Iida-sensei. The other office lady, Morimoto-sensei, says she just left. We all book outside, but her car is already gone. Turns out that she was so sad to leave that she couldn’t even say goodbye to our faces because it would have been too painful, hence her earlier tears. So she couldn’t tell me and Morimoto-sensei didn’t tell me either. Stabbed in the back by the two staffmembers that I’m closest with at this school.
Fuck this day. I’m going home and getting drunk with Fletcher and Helen. Grab my coat, grab my flowers grab my bike key… where the hell is my bike key??
Me and two other teachers scoured the teacher’s room for 20 minutes but apparently my bike key is nowhere to be found. Hoorah. I have a spare at home, but that’s not going to do me any good when I’m here. Fortunately, Ishii-sensei is about to go to the bank, so she offers to give me a ride. We’re 30 seconds from my house when my mobile rings and it’s Shimamura-sensei telling me that they just found the key near the schedule-board. I’m not about to go all the way back to school at this point just so I can ride my bike all the way back home so i just have Ishii-sensei drop me off and now I get to walk to school in the morning on Tuesday. Great, a souvenir of today’s suckiness.
As soon as I get home, I get a shortmail on my phone (an odd message format for cel phones that I’m not going to describe right now) from Iita-sensei telling me thanks for reading her letter (huh??) and to take care. What letter? Whatever. Some video games will solve this.
So after a few dozen stormtroopers have learned the error of their Empire’s ways (man, I just can’t stop linking to the Jedi Outcast page), it’s time to go to Bagus with Fletch and Helen so I grab my coat and check my inside pocket to make sure I have my wallet. Behold a letter from Iida-sensei explaining that she’s quitting and she had intended to say goodbye but couldn’t, blah blah blah.
Why won’t this day just leave me alone!?!?!?
Thankfully, once we arrived in the protective oasis of Bagus, where nothing but tasteless jokes and Black Russians can penetrate, things got better, but I’m still writing that day off as my worst in Japan so far. All in all, far too much catharsis for one man to bear in one day alone. I hesitated posting all this since, while I love a little sardonic commentary from time to time (hell, all the time, really), this just seemed like bitching. But in the end, it’s another day in Japan which I’d like to preserve for posterity, which I guess is my aim for this site, so here it is after all.
Yeah, just another day in Japan. Who else needs a drink?