(Yes I know, another long pause between posts. Still very busy with life and house-hunting.)
Today's word is 卒業 (そつぎょう sotsugyou). It means graduation.
The verb, to graduate, is 卒業する (そつぎょうする sotsugyousuru).
And the graduation ceremony itself is 卒業式 (そつぎょうしき sotsugyoushiki).
In Japan, the school year starts in April and ends in March. So, now is the time for graduations. Being that Japanese people are very sentimental (despite their reputation for stoicism by some outside observers) it's a very emotional time for parents as well as students.
Although I went to school all over the place, I think that the timing of the school year in Japan makes the most sense: the year ending at the end of winter, and beginning in the spring. Late March to early April is also the time when cherry blossoms bloom throughout the country, so my memories of graduation as well as the end of the school year (and saying goodbye to my classmates), and the start of the new year (the excitement and stress of a new set of classmates and new teachers to get to know) all seem to have a backdrop of masses of pale pink blossoms.
There are a few songs traditionally sung at graduation ceremonies. In my day one of them was 『蛍の光』(ほたるのひかり hotaru no hikari), 'The light of the firefly'. It's sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. I hear this is no longer sung much at graduation ceremonies anymore.
Another one is 仰げば尊し (あおげばとおとし aogeba toutoshi), which is a bit hard to translate, but is something like 'The respect I feel for my master (teacher)'.
However, my favorite song about graduation of all time in any language is one penned by Yumi Matsutouya, aka Yuming, one of the best singer-songwriters in Japan. It's called 卒業写真 (そつぎょうしゃしん sotsugyou shashin), which means Graduation Photo. It's not sung at graduation ceremonies since it's way too subtle and private for such occasions.
While Yuming herself sings Graduation Photo beautifully, the song was first made by famous by Junko Yamamoto, who was the lead singer for Hi-Fi Set, a group that was very popular in the '70s to '80s. This is the original Hi-Fi Set recording.
And here's Yuming's version, sung in 2010, with her husband at the keyboard. I'm not sure why she is so emotional while singing it...but it is a very nice version indeed.
Here are the lyrics with a very rough translation (which sounds way worse than the original, which is poetry):
When I am sad, I open the leatherbound cover
In the graduation photo he has gentle eyes
When I saw him in town, I couldn't say a word
He looked just as he did in the graduation photo
As I am pushed along by the tide of people, I am changing
Please occasionally scold (my changing self) from afar
The willows that swayed as though they were talking to me
The street that I walked to school, now I only see from the train
Please don't forget the way we lived back then
Your are my youth personified
This song is all the more special to me, because I don't have any of my class albums or photos from the many schools I've attended. They got lost in the mail when I
moved to Switzerland and shipped my books from New York by sea mail. I don't remember the faces of my former classmates anymore, or even most of their names. I guess this is one of the hazards of the largely nomadic life I've lead. But when I hear this song, the feelings of wistful sadness and sweet nostalgia come back to me, in a cloud of cherry blossoms, and I can almost see my old classmates' faces again.