(Title meant to be sung to the tune of John Denver.)
This week has been a time of big changes in the Japanese school system. April is the September of Japan. In that it's the beginning of the school and working year. The school system in Japan is vastly different from North America in many ways, one of which is the rotation of teachers within the prefecture. Every 5 years approximately, teachers are sent to a new school within the prefecture of Nagasaki (quite a large area) and they move their lives to a new city and new work place. It's especially disrupting living on an island as moving takes that much more effort and coordination. Every teacher within the prefecture must work at least six years on one of the islands, otherwise there would likely be no teachers here. As if moving your entire life every 5 years weren't enough of a challenge, teachers often are not told exactly where they are moving to until two weeks before it's time to leave!
This year, my school had seven teachers leaving. So this week, a few times a day all the teachers and many students went down to the port to say goodbye as they left on the ferry. But not just any old goodbye, this is THE goodbye. The goodbye to put all other goodbyes to shame. The goodbye that, even when I don't really know the teacher who is leaving very well, makes me cry. In fact, I went to a ferry departure where I didn't know ANY teachers leaving to take some pictures for this post... and I still cried.
The teachers leaving stand at the side of the boat holding a bundle of colourful paper ribbons. These ribbon bundles are made by each school and I'm still not quite sure how they tie them to the railing... Students, teachers, and friends hold the other ends of the ribbons looking up at them from the dock -- if that isn't some beautiful symbology I don't know what is. Thank yous and good luck messages are yelled into a megaphone at the teacher. My school sings our school song and more often than not this is the point the teacher leaving (and subsequently all the other teachers) will start to cry. Other schools have the school band out there to play or even have coordinated goodbye chants and cheers. It's both a happy and sad occasion with people often smiling through tears. As the boat pulls away, the rolls of paper ribbon unravel until they reach the end and finally the teacher on board lets go, leaving them to flutter down into the wind. The boat gains speed and students run down the pier to the end, waving and shouting goodbye until it's out of sight. Auld lang syne (often used as a leaving/closing song in Japan) plays over the terminal speaker system. um WHAT. I'm getting emotional just typing this.
I'm convinced that someone needs to include this in some sort of movie-- there wouldn't be a dry eye in the theater. I am only slightly dreading (super duper dreading) the time in August when it will be me standing on that ferry, waving goodbye to Goto forever.