Sunday, April 30, 2017

March: 卒業式、軽音引退ライブ

March marked the end of winter, and the end of the school year. I've heard it to be the most sentimental time of the year in the traditional school life in Japan, and it certainly is. I've learnt that the Japanese place a lot of emphasis and formality in closure. For every school term there is an opening and closing ceremony, and each of them are to be treated with the utmost respect.

My school's graduation ceremony, or 卒業式, took place in the middle of the month. This is the first time I'm attending a high school graduation here in Japan and it was definitely a bit of a culture shock for me, because it was such a solemn ceremony compared to the noisier, more celebratory affairs that I was used to. The ceremony took nearly two hours, and everything from the walk-in, to the speeches, to the standing and sitting cues had to be rehearsed and fine-tuned a week before.

I only taught two classes from this year's graduating batch for a couple of months, so I wasn't very close to the graduates, and didn't feel as emotional as some of the other teachers did. But I'm so dearly fond of my second-year students (who will be graduating next March) - I think I'll be reserving the waterworks for them.

In the ceremony, there are three types very formal speeches to be delivered. They are:
祝辞 (しゅくじ, shukuji) - Congratulatory speeches usually delivered by the head of the PTA, or a representative of the parent body, and the principal or supervising head of the school.
送辞 (そうじ, souji) - Send-off speech delivered by the junior batch of students
答辞 (とうじ, touji) - The response delivered by the graduating batch of students.

All of these speeches must be hand-written very carefully in formal speech parchment, or 御式辞用紙 (おしきじようし, oshikijiyōshi). It looks something like an accordion, folded like a fan, and it has to be written from right to left. This was the 答辞 speech that was delivered by the valedictorian (there's no such title in Japan but that's pretty much equivalent to what she was) for this year:

I also found out that my school keeps every single copy of these speeches. I'm not sure when exactly they started keeping it, but I know that the school I work for was founded 136 years ago.

These boxes alone contain speeches from 平成10年 (1998). I was born in 平成5年 (1993). There are a whole lot more boxes of these in storage. :O

The day after the ceremony, the school was so quiet and empty, and I found myself wandering in the hallways of the graduates' classroom block. I peeked in to some of the classrooms and in that moment I felt a very strong wave of emotions that weren't there the day before. Something about an empty classroom, with all the lockers opened and cleared out invoked a very bittersweet feeling.

Next year's graduation will definitely be a more emotional affair for me.

Later, in the second half of March, I sang in a special live concert event organised by the 軽音部 (lit. light music club; rock/pop music club) in my school. It was a retirement concert (引退ライブ) for the high school second year students, who will leave the clubs after this and focus on their studies in the final year.

So how did I end up at that concert? I'll need to backtrack a bit.

Sometime in December, I was wandering around the school on the ground floor when I heard a familiar song coming from the fourth storey of a classroom block. I knew it was music coming from the light music club. The song wasn't just familiar - it was literally the first ever Japanese song I heard, loved and kept as my alarm tone for four years.

I raced up to the fourth storey, tried to find out which classroom (they were all occupied by students from the light music club) the song was coming from and when I finally did I threw the door open and yelled, 「この歌知ってる!!!!!」["I know this song!!!!"] to a bunch of students who stood there gaping before all of them burst out laughing, and saying 「マジか?!」["Are you serious?!?!"] As it turns out, the students were from the batch that I was teaching. I told them how obsessed I was with this song and how much I loved the show it was from, because Ikuta Toma starred in it, which instantly won many brownie points with my students :')

So what is this song exactly?

It's none other than my ultimate Japanese karaoke track/eternal guilty pleasure - the theme song from the 2007 drama HanaKimi (花ざかりの君たちへ) -


It was honestly the most fun experience I've had with a club activity since I started working there. For nearly 1.5 hours, they let me sing with them (lord only knows how bad I must have sounded because the Japanese would never tell you honestly if you're horrible at something), and one of the girls also taught me the basic drumming for the song. I also have zero hand-leg coordination - believe me, I've tried drumming at a friend's house several times - but she refused to give up teaching me.

Over the next few months I would join them every once in a while, when I didn't have any activities going on in the English Room after school. And I would just be singing the same song with them because that was really all I knew. For nearly two months I never told the teacher in charge of the light music club that I was playing with them, so one afternoon when she was randomly checking in on the students, she finally discovered I was playing with them and her expression was priceless.

I didn't play with them again until a couple of days before their club' concert, where I thought it'd be my last time playing with them. But that afternoon just as I was about to head home the girls came to look for me and asked if I would perform the song with them in front of all the members and teachers. I am not gonna lie I actually had a mini heart attack right then because I've always been singing from a songsheet, and I knew the actual speed they usually performed at (they slowed down the song a lot so that it'll be easier for me to sing with them.) But I can't say no to these darling kids, so I gave in.

The concert lasted from 10am to 4pm - and every band from both the first and second year students had their chance to perform a 20-minute set. The club actually brought in equipment from a rental company, so the audio quality was great and it felt like a real livehouse event.

The teddy bear was a present left behind for the club, from a girl who had to move to Osaka and transferred schools halfway into the school year. So she/the bear sat there watching the live concert with everyone else too! 
The band I performed with - ちゃらんぽらん!

The band I played with called themselves ちゃらんぽらん, which means being a bit too happy-go-lucky to the point where one would seem irresponsible, or too devil-may-care. Actually I think it kinda fit these kids just a tad bit ;) but I also think that they're one of the happiest, chirpiest and carefree students I know. Thank you for giving me the chance to play with you, it's been one of the best experiences of my life in this school. みんなありがとう

One thing I didn't expect (although I really should have...) immediately after spring vacation, I started teaching their juniors and the moment I stepped into the classes that had light music club members, I was greeted with sly smiles and low whispers singing "Ikenaitaiyou nanananana...."

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