And so begins the last semester of the school year…

Today was opening ceremonies for the second* semester.

Imagine a gymnasium that has no seating, no climate control, and no insulation. That’s where the staff stand and the students sit through the hour long opening ceremonies. The smart students bring blankets. I throw formality to the wind and wear three layers: my coat and scarf, blazer or sweater, and shirt. If I’m warned about the ceremony a day in advance, I also wear leggings. Unfortunately, in my indoor shoes, my feet stay cold.

In America, in the high school I worked in, there was nothing quite like Japanese opening ceremonies. We had pep rallies, but that’s not quite the same. From what I’ve pieced together from asking and body language, it’s basically announcements, congratulations for people who’ve won sports tournaments, and a general “do your best on the upcoming tests.” But it’s all delivered in a very formal, lecture-style instead of like a pep rally.

I try to focus on something to keep my interest. It’s tough when you don’t know what anyone is saying.

This time, the first 15 minutes of the opening ceremony was to congratulate two male students for winning the regional tennis match; they qualified for the nationals. They stood on the stage as first the principal congratulated them, then the student president, and then the male cheerleaders did a routine for them.

The male cheerleaders ran up to the stage from the sidelines. They were barefoot (yes, despite the cold, cold gym floor), but wore immaculate uniforms, white gloves, and purple armbands. They faced the tennis champions in formation, and suddenly a drum beat as loud as possible — which in the echoing gym, was pretty damn loud.

I, unprepared, flailed and said, “Oh shit!” Luckily, I was on the sidelines and nobody noticed.

Cheerleading in Japan is so vastly different from America. Imagine adolescent young men with black uniforms, white gloves, making gestures like air traffic control men to the beat of a loud drum and marching-esque music while yelling things in Japanese.

It’s fascinating for me to watch.

After all, this is what I’m used to:

After the male cheerleaders’ brief routine was over, they turned and ran, full speed, back to their original place. I, again unprepared, had drifted closer to see better and was nearly bowled over like a pin.

This is a pretty accurate visualization.

After that, I kept my back to the wall. I’m a quick learner.

Since they stood so close to me, I noticed they all (there’s about six of them) stood perfectly still, in formation, with their hands behind their back, nearly a reverse prayer pose except their hands were clasped. They didn’t fidget, even though they were barefoot. Their expressions stayed neutral. Even when one of the tennis champions gave a brief speech and his voice broke twice, they didn’t even chuckle (and it was funny. Poor kid. Adolescent awkwardness is universal).

In the high school I’d worked for, I’d only seen this kind of discipline in the JROTC. But these are cheerleaders, not kids practicing for the military.

I want to ask “why?” Why is there such formal discipline? What is the significance of having the cheerleaders so stoic? What does it show? Does it bring more cheer?

But, I don’t think my questions translate. When I’ve tried in the past, I get a lot of confused stares. Or, maybe, comparing differences or asking “why?” just isn’t done. Japan is Japan, and that’s considered a complete explanation.


* Or third semester? I’m still not entirely sure how the semester system works here, since school is basically year round, however the summer months are “self-study” months with long term assignments which are tested on once the students return for formal classes in autumn. Yet, these self-study months don’t seem to count as a semester…


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