It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

No, I’m not talking about Christmas.

My school's logo is a stylized infinity symbol, so "Infinity" tends to pop up a lot as a theme for school functions.
My school’s logo is a stylized infinity symbol, so “Infinity” tends to pop up a lot as a theme for school functions.

As you might have guessed, I really, genuinely, wholeheartedly love my job, and that feeling is rarely more prevalent than during school festival. In Japan, most high schools have an annual culture festival right before the summer holidays. Aomori High School’s culture festival was last weekend, and it was filled with lots of delicious food, dancing, and fun…along with an inordinate amount of cross-dressing, because hey, why not?

Japanese high schools...the only place where you'll get Ronald McDonald and company dancing to "Dancing Queen."
Japanese high schools…the only place where you’ll get Ronald McDonald and company dancing to “Dancing Queen.”
Cross-dressing, exhibit A.
Cross-dressing, exhibit A.

Most high school festivals that I’ve heard of only last two days, but because AHS tends to have a “go big or go home” attitude (Exhibit A: our annual evacuation drill includes a helicopter airlifting someone from the roof), ours is spread out over four days, complete with an opening ceremony ending with fireworks.

The "mascots" for Aomori's Nebuta festival even made a special appearance. 豚  ("buta") is the Japanese word for 'pig,' hence the oinker.
The “mascots” for Aomori’s Nebuta festival even made a special appearance. 豚 (“buta”) is the Japanese word for ‘pig,’ hence the oinker.

Three of those days are spent on the school grounds; the fourth, which deserves a blog post of its own, is spent at a nearby exhibition hall. For the first three days, the kids have nothing to do but eat, dance, and romp around like the teenagers they are. For so much of the school year, I see these kids as serious, studious nerds, dressed in their uniforms. And most of the time, I love that. I like teaching kids who take their education seriously. But to see them downright exuberant and carefree at school festival, out of their uniforms, is like a breath of fresh air.

“Out of their uniforms” includes the aforementioned cross-dressing. One of the biggest crowd-pleasers of culture festival is the “ミスコン” contest. Each of the seven homerooms in the first and second grades (so, in American terms, tenth and eleventh grades) puts forth a male and female representative. They dress up as the opposite gender and put on a skit. Hilarity ensues.

The "men" of ミスコン.
The “men” of ミスコン.
The "girls" tend to go more all-out in terms of wardrobe.
The “girls” tend to go more all-out in terms of wardrobe.

And if you thought sports festival involved some wacky getups, culture festival goes far beyond that. We’ve got the full spectrum going: kids in 浴衣 (yukata, summer cotton kimono) and 甚平 (jinbei), kids in their class t-shirts (as seen at sports festival), kids dressed up as Ronald McDonald…

Naturally, Pikachu made an appearance.
Naturally, Pikachu made an appearance. Sully from Monsters, Inc. was also wandering around school, but sadly I couldn’t find her for a picture.

Also part of school festival are lots of mini-activities and showcases. Most clubs, like the green tea ceremony club, the cooking club, and so on, get their own room for their use. For some – like the flower arranging and art clubs – that means they have a place to display their work. For others – like ESS (“English Speaking Society,” because heaven forbid we just call it the English Club) – that means running their own mini café. In the case of ESS, that meant selling lots of American chocolates provided by yours truly; I was pretty chuffed to see that they were quick sellers.

And because this is a school for nerds, a math competition somehow figured into the activities.
And because this is a school for nerds, a math competition somehow figured into the activities.

While all of the kids get to enjoy the festival, it’s the third graders (or seniors) who are definitely the stars of the show. Each homeroom is in charge of putting together their own food stall, complete with menu, advertising, and hawkers. About a week before festival begins, flyers and menus pop up all over school.

Advertising the goods.
Advertising the goods.
There was even a shout-out to "Kiki's Delivery Service."
There was even a shout-out to “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”

“Pirates of the Cariiiiyan,” from the kids of Kariya-sensei’s homeroom, had probably my favorite marketing ploy, but Maki-sensei’s “Maki-Donald’s” hawkers take the title of “most dedicated,” since they had to sweat the days out in full makeup and wigs.

I didn't envy these guys.
I didn’t envy these guys.

This is both the high- and lowlight of festival for me…I love Japanese festival food, but the staffroom is directly above the area where the kids cook. Basically, the aromas of cooking yakisoba and grilling chicken waft up to the teachers’ room, and I have to restrain myself from doing this all day.

Preparing for the hoards of hungry customers to descend.
Preparing for the hordes of hungry customers to descend.

Maybe it’s my “kids these days” opinion of American high-schoolers or just the fact that I can’t have imagined most of my graduating class continually dishing out awesome food for six straight hours, but the level of teamwork and dedication impressed me. Lots of hot oil being splashed around, and you didn’t hear one kid go screeching to the nurse’s office with burns. (Compared to me, who has lost count of the number of times she’s sliced open her fingers dicing onions.)

A few of my favorites, slaving over their (delicious) yakiudon.
A few of my favorites, slaving over their (delicious) yakiudon.

And lest you think it’s the parents doing all the work, but the only time I saw their involvement was first thing in the morning, when loads of vans rolled up to school and kids scurried out to unloads grills, bags of charcoal, and coolers of raw meat and vegetables. I loved seeing my kids roll up their sleeves, don aprons and bandanas, and get to work on something other than schoolwork or sports practice.

Not a clue what was on top of his head. Some sort of fish, I think?
Not a clue what was on top of his head. Some sort of fish, I think?

And because they’re truly good sports, nobody minded taking a second or two to give me a good photo.

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