I slipped quietly into the elementary school gymnasium so as to not disturb the singing sixth years. They were lined up, accordions in the front to flutes in the back practicing their farewell song. In a few short weeks they will graduate and move up the ladder of life to the middle school up the road.
A short time later they filed out, and things got underway for the "goodbye party." Party seems like the wrong word, though that is what it said on my schedule. I'd call it a "farewell assembly." Each class had prepared a song to sing to congratulate the sixth years on their completion of elementary school. Even the youngest kids had instruments and had obviously practiced quite hard for the day. The fourth year classes even had coordinated dance moves!
The fifth years did something a little different, with various skits reenacting the whole elementary school experience. They even managed to squeeze in some pretty pointed jabs at some of the teachers that had the whole audience laughing. At one point, a rather rotund young man came bursting out dressed in a toga to pose as the great Buddha statue at Kamakura. I am always amazed at the depths of creativity in these kids, especially as it doesn't always show itself in class.
Even the teachers (sans me, who is only there once a week) got into the act, with a rousing rendition of the popular song Kiseki complete with electric guitar, violin and trombone! The whole thing was a lot of fun, even though a lot of it went over my still tragically limited Japanese listening skills.
On the middle school side of things, I got a chance to go to the big end of year drinking party attended by staff from every middle school in Maebashi. The invite went something like this...
"Grant sensei, are you coming to the party on Friday?"
"Uh.. this Friday?"
"Ok, be there at 6:00"
So I was expecting just a normal staff party, with just people from my school and a nice, casual dress code. What I got was 200 people in suits, and me in jeans and a t-shirt. Oooops. Luckily once the beer starts to pour, nobody cares, and honestly as a foreigner, they don't really care anyway. The before party speeches did drag a bit, looking around I saw a great many teachers had nodded right off!
As always with a big event like this, the food was excellent, and the beer was plentiful. During Japanese drinking parties you never pour your own drink, you allow others near you to pour for you. Also, people will often get up and walk over to an authority figure to pour their drinks as a sign of respect. Well, I was sitting next to the Vice-Principle and a lot of people came over to pour his drink, then went ahead and topped me up since I was right there. Being that I am by nature a thirsty person my glass was often in need of some attention. (Seriously, it doesn't matter what I'm drinking, water, coke, juice, beer, margaritas... I drink lots and a drink fast.)
One nice thing about this particular shindig was that since every school was in attendance, I wasn't the only foreigner for once. Several good friends were also there, so I got to have some nice chats in something other than broken Japanese.
The school year is rapidly winding down, and everybody is in for some big changes over the next few weeks. Good thing too, without change life just wouldn't be interesting would it?