The second term of the school year, which includes such big events as field day and the school festival, comes to an end in December. In most Japanese middle schools, finals begin toward the end of November and are usually held over three days, covering nine subjects: English, math, Japanese, science, social studies, physical education, home economics, music, and art.
After final exams are through, parents are called to the school for three-way conferences between the student, teacher, and parent. The subjects discussed at these meetings are the students' grades for the second term, how they can be improved in the third (final) term, the school events coming up, and the student's involvement in clubs and other extracurricular activities.
Kakizome are displayed in the hallway. (Shinonoi-nishi Middle School)
When these series of interviews end, a ceremony is held to close out the second term, and winter vacation starts. The break in winter is shorter than that in the summer, usually lasting for about two weeks from around December 25 (though schools in cold, snowy northern regions get a longer break). It's not quite long enough to hold school-sponsored events, and so the school closes down completely. Kids don't get any homework, except maybe to turn in a special piece of New Year calligraphy.
Such works, called kakizome, are traditionally written at the beginning of the new year, usually on January 2, on long strips of paper measuring 30 centimeters (12 inches) wide. The subjects tend to be auspicious words befitting the New Year or the writer's goals for the year ahead.
The kakizome works are often displayed in the classroom or the hallway, and the most outstanding works receive commendations from the school.