Back to school, back to school! It’s the first week of the new school year here in Japan. Every year, schools start with a 始業式 (opening ceremony) and 入学式 (entrance ceremony). Even though the school I teach at is a combined Junior High School and High School, they are considered two separate ‘schools’. The students physically stay in the same school, but things like their uniform changes – the girls wear a different coloured skirt, and the boys change the buttons on their jackets. The Opening Ceremony is for continuing students, which in my school’s case is JHS 2nd and 3rd grades, and HS 2nd and 3rd grades. At this ceremony, the new teachers are introduced and homeroom teachers are announced as well. While the Entrance Ceremony, held on the next day, is for students entering the new ‘schools’ – JHS 1st grade and HS 1st grade. All the parents are invited to attend and it’s much more formal and official. In the gym, which is decked out in red and white celebratory banners, the Principal says a (long!) speech, everyone sings the national anthem, the students sing the school song, the PTA says a few words, the homeroom teachers are announced, and the brass band performs while the students exit the gym at the end. It lasts about an hour, then everyone goes outside to take photos under the sakura trees! Last year the cherry blossoms peaked in March, so by the time the Entrance Ceremony came around, there were no flowers left on the trees – very unfortunate! Luckily this year, they bloomed a bit later, and there were plenty of flowers for all those photo hungry parents!