The Japanese school year starts in April and you will see 卒業式(そつぎょうしき—graduation ceremonies) all around Japan in March. Japanese 卒業式 is usually an event for the entire school and all teachers and students, including underclassmen, attend the ceremony. A typical graduation consists of diploma presentations, speeches (from a graduate, the student body, a PTO representative, politicians, teachers, etc.), and singing of“graduation songs” in chorus. Please read more about Japanese graduation in this Wikipedia article.
One 卒業式 custom that may be unique to Japan is the giving/receiving of “第二ボタン”(second button of boy’s uniform jacket). On graduation day at junior high and high schools, a male graduate may give his second button to a female student. Although some boys give their buttons to girls they like without being asked, it’s more common for a female junior to ask a senpai (senior) she likes for his button. If the senpai likes her, and/or he does not have other requests he may give the botton to her.
When a male graduate receives multiple requests, he is to give his second button to the girl he cares the most, and then the other buttons to the other girls. Popular boys often end up handing over other uniform accessories, such as nametags, cuff links, stand collar inserts, and school pins.
Many report that this custom has its roots in World War II. Before young soldiers went to war, they handed their second buttons to their lovers as keepsakes. They did so, especially in the case of Kamikaze pilots, knowing there was little chance of a safe return. Kanko, a major school uniform company explains that the soldiers selected the “second” button, because its absence would be less noticeable to commanding officers. Kanko also suggests that it was the second button because it is located close to one’s heart.
The following are extra reading materials/video clips regarding 卒業式 and 第二ボタン。 Please review them and share your comments.
• Aogeba Totoshi:a very popular traditional graduation song.