The Japanese school year ends in March and begins in April. Which means this month is when all the graduation ceremonies take place.
Education is mandatory up through the 9th grade here. That's six years
of elementary school and three years of junior high school. To get
into a high school, even a public one, you have to sit an entrance exam.
Ninth graders study hard all year, usually attending cram schools in
the evenings and weekends, so that they can get into a good high school.
Early in March, they graduate from junior high school, and a few days
later, they sit their entrance exams. They don't find out until a couple
weeks before school starts which - if any - high schools they've been
I recently attended the graduation for my jhs. It was a pretty formal occasion. There was a lot of bowing. Somber classical music played while the kids walked up to get their diplomas. Afterwards, there were a lot of speeches. I managed not to sneeze, even though I have a cold.
The thing that struck me the most was that there was absolutely no mention of anything academic. Nobody talked about the importance of reading, writing, or arithmetic, or any of the subjects they'd spent the last three years studying. Instead, they talked about the sports festival, the chorus performance, the school trips, or the school campaigns to promote proper Aisatsu throughout the school. In short, all the things that they'd done together, as a class. They talked about how mandatory education socializes children. Through the past nine years of schooling, they'd learned manners, proper behavior, and how to relate to their peers and their community.
They told the students they should be greatful to their parents and teachers and all the other people in their community who had made those nine years of schooling possible. They told them to have a dream and work towards it. With the skills and experiences they had acquired from mandatory schooling, and the continued support of their family and town, they could achieve any dream they had.
A lot of those kids had been going to school together since kindergarten, so it was pretty emotional for them. Now, they'll all go their separate ways. A few of them will start working, and the rest will go off to different high schools. Some of them will have a thirty minute train commute to school every day. Others will have a twenty minute bike ride. The driven ones will spend every evening in a cram school, because after high school comes college entrance exams.
I don't envy them.