For nearly the entire month of September students have been preparing for this festival. From students designing and submitting their own "symbol marks" (a logo to represent the year's festival) to spending hours after school and during preparing decorations for the classrooms, there isn't a student that doesn't have a hand in helping this event come together.
My current school's festival differed in a number of ways from my last, so each school clearly has their own take on the event. Talking with friends who also teach in junior high verified this, in that some schools have festivals lasting multiple days whereas both of the ones I attended only lasted one. Some don't even include some of the same components as the two I went to, and others add other activities. Universally, it is a time for the students to show off their artistic and creative abilities over a variety of different media outlets.
|From last year's school festival|
The festival itself begins in the gym. Every grade will give a performance of a play their class had written. Each class would have submitted a play and then the best one from each grade is chosen to perform. Another (first year) class is then given control of the opening ceremony.
Japan loves ceremonies. I have been to countless of them now and I am always impressed at just how much effort goes into them, even if the reason for having it seems rather simple or mundane to me. Walking into the gym all of the classes are sitting in the center; boys to the left, girls to the right. The constant separation of genders in this country is something that I'm still not completely used to. There is a huge white tarp covering the 3 square meter "symbol mark", which is to be seen by everyone during the opening ceremony for the first time. Scattered around are exactly 65 chairs for parents, guests, and teachers to sit in. Most of these will be filled by PTA moms and maybe three fathers or grandfathers. The lack of parental involvement in these school functions is something that always makes me feel a bit sad, but these activities are done for the students, not their mothers and/or fathers.
|The "symbol mark"|
There is then a slideshow of the various classes preparing for the festival which, I would learn later, is the Song-Of-The-Festival. I cannot tell you what it was, but I am pretty sure I heard it fifty times over the course of the day in both standard and music box varieties. Finally, the class who prepared the opening ceremony sings a song and does a dance that involves a lot of organized clapping (which the rest of the school hilariously tries to clap along with). It was equal parts cute, strange and emotionless. But, I guess I really can't expect much else from seven graders.
Once the song is finished the attention is directed towards the Super Smash Bros party ball (くす玉 Kusudama, or medicine ball) hanging over the students which then opens and a huge banner that says "begin the school festival" unfurls from inside and the kids are showered in confetti. There is cheering and everyone is excited for it to finally begin. Even though we've all been sitting in the gym for thirty minutes and will continue to sit there for the next two plus hours watching performances.
Due to the length this has gotten, I've decided to split this blog post into two parts. Part two will include a brief summary of the performances and my thoughts on them, the way in which the schools were decorated, the band performance and the not-nearly-as-long-as-the-opening-ceremony closing ceremony.