Come April and lot of changes take place in Japan. Almost anything new and important begins on or after 1st April. The arrival of spring also marks the beginning of the new fiscal year and also the beginning of a new school year.
Back in my country, the beginning of the school year is not marked by any ceremony. In Japan, however the new school year is marked with a special “Entrance” ceremony. Personally I liked this concept as students look forward to the beginning of the new academic year and it is always good to make the first day enjoyable, especially for new students who would otherwise be slightly nervous on their first day in a new setting.
Entrance ceremonies are usually held across Japan in early April. These ceremonies are held in all schools- right from Kindergartens to High School. In kindergartens, these ceremonies are called “Nyuuenshiki” while in Elementary to High schools these are called “Nyuugakushiki”.
Typically these ceremonies are held in the school gym and are attended by the students and their families. The children dress in their school uniforms while parents dress formally. Few parents also dress up in their colourful kimonos. Some times grandparents also participate in the Entrance ceremony.In a typical ceremony, the old students and the parents are seated in the gym and the new students march in to a round of applause, welcoming them. The principal of the school then addresses the gathering, with encouraging words for the students. Then the homeroom teachers are introduced. Then PTA members or other teachers/ student representatives may also make short speeches. The ceremony ends with the students singing the school song. After this the students are led to their new classrooms by their teachers who then brief the students about the various activities lined up in year ahead. Commemorative class pictures are then taken which marks the end of the first day of the school.
This week, we too attended an “Nyuuenshiki”- entrance ceremony at our daughter’s kindergarten. Her school is managed by a Buddhist temple and the entrance ceremony here includes certain Buddhist rituals.
The school gym podium had a Buddhist altar in the centre.
At one end was a wooden Elephant with a small Buddha statue on it.
At the entrance to the gym, scrolls carrying names of each the students in calligraphy were put up.
The ceremony began with the principal and three children dressed in traditional attire walked up the podium, bowed before the altar, placed flowers and lit candles.
This was followed by everyone bowing in prayer. Then the principal made a speech welcoming the students to a new year. Then a Buddhist priest addressed the gathering and said encouraging words to the children.
This was followed by all the children singing the school song. The Japanese course students sang in Japanese while the International course students sang in English. After this the homeroom teachers and the English teachers were introduced.
The school bus drivers were also introduced. Then two priests walked up the podium for the blessing ritual. The children walked up to the podium and each one was blessed with sprinkling of holy water.
Then a PTA member addressed the gathering. After this the ceremony concluded and the children were led to their classrooms by their teachers, followed by their parents. The children played in their playrooms, while the teachers briefed the parents about the year ahead. Activity calendar for the year, important announcements and the bus schedules were handed out. After this we all walked back to the gym where commemorative group picture of the students,teachers and parents were clicked. After this we all went home, the children bidding goodbye to their friends, enthusiastic about going back to school the next day.