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Graduation Ceremony

The Japanese school year starts in April and ends in March, so there's a rush of graduation ceremonies from mid- to late March.

The ceremony consists basically of students receiving graduation certificates, but because it's the last event of the school year, it's conducted in a very solemn manner. The principal opens with an address, followed by speeches from invited guests. The certificates are then handed one by one to the students by the principal. It's an event in which everyone graduating is a hero or heroine.

After the students receive their diplomas, all participants sing "Hotaru no hikari" (light of fireflies) together. Other songs may be performed, too, but "Hotaru" is sung at virtually all schools. The song's melody comes from the Scottish folk tune "Auld Lang Syne," with lyrics in Japanese. The Ministry of Education approved the song for singing in schools back in 1881; today it's performed not just at graduations but any time people must part.

About 89,200 students graduated from public middle schools in Tokyo in March 1998, some 3,000 fewer than the year before. The figures are in keeping with the trend for families to have fewer children.