Thank You Always

March 8th was a special day for me because I was invited to my favorite junior high school’s graduation ceremony. I went last year, but at that time I had only known the graduating class for a little over 7 months. This year was a little more special because I have been with these kids for two years (since they were 2nd-year students). There were only 9 students in the graduating class (5 girls and 4 boys). One of them I was especially close with because I coached her for the English Speech contest in 2011 and 2012. But really, I have grown quite close to all of them. It was awesome to see them graduate. I almost cried.

graduation

I arrived at the school at 12pm (my supervisor let me spend the morning at home, thank goodness). I ate lunch with the 1st and 2nd-year students and then waited for the 3rd-years to arrive. The ceremony began at 2pm. There were a lot of speeches, as usual, and I could understand a lot more of their speeches this year. I especially loved the 2nd-year kid’s speech and the graduating class representative’s speech. By the end of her speech, many were in tears. And then they had to sing their farewell song. Half the girls couldn’t sing because they were crying.

My favorite part is always at the end where all the teachers stand in a line at the front of the gym and the students all come up and say their thank-you’s with a bow. It was a loud, heartfelt, teary “Thank you.” Then they turned, wiping their tears, and marched out of the gym to end the ceremony.

 

「ありがとうございます」

 

The words “Thank you” are especially meaningful in Japan, I feel. For graduating 3rd-year students, that “Thank you” encapsulates the students’ feelings of gratitude toward their teachers for helping them through three years of junior high school. For helping them learn, have fun, and prepare for the dreaded high school entrance exams. Teachers hold a position of respect and honor in Japan, so graduation is a time to recognize the students’ accomplishments and also the teachers who helped them through it all.

Children in Japan tell their parents “Thank you” instead of “I love you”. “I love you” is usually reserved for girl/boyfriends and spouses and rarely used towards parents. A quick Google search for Japanese Mother’s Day cards showed me a bunch of cards with the words “Thank you, Mom.” But a Google search for American/English Mother’s Day cards showed me cards with “I love Mom” and “I love you, Mom”.

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(Thank you, Mom)                                       and                              I Love You, Mom

I asked a Japanese person about it once, because I was struggling to convey my feelings of love and appreciation to my Japanese host mother after staying at her house for a month. She had done so many things for me, gone out of her way to take care of me and make me feel welcome and loved. I always tell my parents in America that I love them, but those words weren’t exactly right in this situation. I asked what I should say instead of “I love you.” They told me to say “Thank you always” (いつもありがおう). Thank you for what you do and have done, now and always. That is what children most often say to their parents.

In Japan, it is often implied that you did not get anywhere without the people that helped you. When people change jobs or move on to bigger, better things, they often thank their peers, teachers, co-workers, and bosses for the care and help they received along the way. It is a part of the culture I have come to love. With 9 people being transferred out of the office this April, there are a lot of thank-you’s going around.

When adults say thank you to other adults, it is usually with monetary or physical gifts. Last year, I received many sweets, handkerchiefs, and washcloths. I think handkerchiefs are the traditional gift. I received a 100% silk handkerchief from one co-worker yesterday morning and another this morning.

What’s more, our office’s “food gift counter” is overflowing with gourmet sweets. Visitors, usually teachers or vice principals who have received promotions, have been coming to our office all week to pay their respects and say thank you to the higher-ups. More and more keep coming every day!

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Today is the last day of the fiscal year and the very last day for my co-workers (the ones who are leaving) to be in the office. I am really going to miss two of them especially (out of the 9 that are being transferred). First, the guy-who-sits-to-the-left-of-me. He invited me to his home several times and hosted me for New Year’s Eve so I could celebrate Japanese-style with his wife, mother, and two daughters. He’s a joker who likes to laugh. The guy-who-sits-across-from-me always smiles and is kind to me. He gives me bags of apples in the fall and winter.

On Monday this week, the three of us went to Suzuro, which is arguably the most famous traditional Japanese sweet shop in Hirosaki. We ate lunch really quickly at the office and spent the rest of our lunch break at Suzuro. Guy-who-sits-across-from-me is old friends with the lady who works there, so it was a really friendly, casual yet traditional atmosphere. It was a nice bit of closure and guy-who-sits-across-from-me even treated me for dessert.

Thank you!

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3 Comments to “Thank You Always”

  1. I have read both your new blogs and am really going to miss them as there is always something different and interestingWe have all learned something about Japan through you.And now its home and a trip to N.Y Time certainly does keep on the move. It w2ill be nice to talk to you on the phone again. Love,Nana

  2. Stacy, This post was really interesting. Having been in the country for so long you have been able to delve into the societal differences in an American upbringing and one in Japan. Being a tourist you don’t have the opportunity to explore these differences beyond the surface. Your posts are always so interesting and insightful. I certainly have a greater knowledge of life in Japan and I thank you for sharing your experiences. While I will miss the posts I am so happy you are coming home to Austin. Please know that if you need a place to stay while you look for something permanent I am happy to have my roomie back. I should be in my new place and will have room for my OD. XO Liz

  3. This is a topic that is near to my heart..
    . Many thanks! Where are your contact details though?

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