My third years have graduated. It’s a much bigger deal than in the States.

My memories of junior high graduation are … well. There was some sort of ceremony, we stood on risers, we walked across the stage to get our diploma when they called our name. I think we practiced lining up all of once. I dressed like a tart on a dare. Mom worried that by disrespecting the ceremony I might alienate people, but I assumed – rightly – that I would essentially never speak to anybody from junior high ever again.

Here, it’s very formal. They take time off classes to practice the process – bowing precisely together, singing a few different school songs. They don’t shake hands when they get their diploma, they lift it above their heads and then bow much lower than usual. There was a speech by the principal, and a speech by … somebody, I think from the board of education. There was some kind of short speech from a student. It was surprisingly long (and I was at the smaller school) and the gym was freezing cold. All the teachers were in black suits, the ladies all had corsage-esque pins. I was slightly underdressed, because I don’t actually have a suit here – but I was in a black dress and jacket with a white collared shirt, and I put up my hair with my shell hairpin. One third year teacher was in a formal kimono. The men all wore cream or white long ties, except for the principal, who was in pinstripe gray pants and tails and I swear I am not shitting you, white gloves.

After the ceremony, they all stood around outside in the freezing cold, though teachers got to go warm up in the staff room. Until we were called back down, so that the third years could thank the principal for their education, and the band could play, and everybody could shout “BANZAI! BANZAI! BANZAI!”

It can’t be that big a deal, though. If it was, they’d have held it on a weekend – there were about three fathers present. I assume the others were working.

Today, the 17th, the 3rd years get their results for the public high school test. There are two types of high school in Japan: public and private. Depending on the region, there are different reputations – in many places, it is the private schools which have excellent reps and the public schools which are less desirable. The opposite is true in Toyama, though it’s not unique. Here, the school to enter is Takaoka Public High, and those are the results that came out today.

It’s important to get into the right high school here. If your school has a bad reputation, that makes it harder to get into the good universities – and even at the easiest, that’s pretty damn hard. People study like mad to get into university, sometimes taking several years before they pass the tests. But once you get in, it’s nearly impossible not to graduate – essentially, the opposite of the American system.

I don’t know what the kids have been doing all day, but those who passed the Takaoka test have been trickling back to school, to thank the teachers for their education and to be congratulated.

I’m a little sad about today, actually. It’s my last day at this school, and I was supposed to have four classes. But my teacher cancelled three of them, so I just had the one. Still, it went well. We played a game, and they seemed to enjoy it. They had a going away ceremony for me after lunch, and the principal said some things which I assume were nice before I got up to give a slightly altered version of the speech I gave the elementary school kids. I stumbled a little over the Japanese – I should have practiced again. After that, I proceeded to look like a giant moron, mostly because nobody gave me a rundown of the ceremony so I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing. What they wanted: for me to stay on the stage while kids gave me a speech and a bouquet, and then look at the kids while they sang me the school long. What I did: try to leave the stage, on 2 separate occasions. And then I was looking at the girl playing the piano instead of out at the other kids.

It was very nice, and they all clapped, and nobody laughed at my Japanese – though I have the feeling that the kids here are too well behaved to laugh during a ceremony. Still, I certainly won’t miss not having things explained to me because the only people who can are otherwise busy, and just having to work things out on the fly.

It wasn’t remotely as cute as the elementary school ceremony, which was essentially the same except they didn’t sing a song. Also, instead of giving me flowers they gave me handmade mementos with comments from the kids and pictures and origami. It was all painfully adorable.