It’s spring break -or at least it is for Haru. For me , the 6:30AM to 4:30PM workdays still continue. Haru will have about 2 weeks off until she starts the first grade. It will be a new school with a new teacher and new friends. She will be amongst strangers once again. Not only will she be entering the first grade, she will also be in a new gymnastics class, and a new cheer leading class. Everything will start off fresh and new, which can be daunting to some.
So, to make the transition a bit smoother, Haru has set up some play dates with her kindergarten friends. Yesterday she spent the day at Kidzania with Sakura, one of her (now former) classmates. Originally, Yuka (Haru’s personality twin and de facto rival), Sakura, and Haru were all suppose to go, but apparently Yuka was grounded by her father and could not go, so it was just Sakura and Haru.
Kidzania is a theme park that allows children to have a very realistic experience of being in various occupations within the workforce. The children are given Kidzania money, which they keep in Kidzania bank, which has a real working ATM in which the children use a real ATM card to deposit and withdraw Kidzania money.
Within the Kidzania city, children can choose an occupation of their liking, and get first hand experience or what it would be like to do that job. There is a Morinaga candy factory where children can make real Hi-Chew candy, or they can experience what it’s like to make a real MOS Burger hamburger. Of if they don’t want to work in the private sector, they can choose to be firefighters or police men and women. Haru and her gang of friends visited Kidzania not too long ago and had already done the Morinaga candy factory and the fire department.
The candy factory is one of, if not the most popular attraction, so you basically have to get there really really early, because they start limiting admission to the factory really early, and late arrivers simply don’t get in. The other popular attraction is the modelling agency. Haru has been wanting to do this for a long time, but not only do you have line up really early, you have to be at least six years old. Now that Haru is six, she is able to experience what it’s like to dress up, walk down a runway, and even have her picture on the cover of Kidzania magazine.
ANA flight attendant and a Kidzania police officer are some of the other occupations that Haru and Sakura participated in this time around. Overall, it was a good day for all. Next up on the agenda is Luck Ski camp next week. Given that Haru has never skied before, it’d be interesting on how she does.
Last Friday was Haru’s final day of kindergarten and her graduation ceremony. It was a fairly big and ceremonious event, probably even bigger and more eventful than my college graduation, which in contrast was somewhat unceremonious and boring. Initially, I thought that the whole idea of graduating from kindergarten was a bit odd and silly. I don’t recall having any graduation ceremony when I moved from kindergarten to first grade, or from elementary school to junior high school, or even from junior high school to high school. I kind of felt that it somewhat minimizes high school and college graduation which in my opinion are much more significant. It kind of reminds me of this argument between Helen and Bob from The Incredibles, in which Bob says, they keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity… which is so true. However, having said this, I did find that Haru’s kindergarten graduation a good opportunity to say her final goodbyes to the friends whom she had spent the last three years in school with. Many of her friends will move on to other elementary schools; some will even move away to other cities all together. Even the kids who will continue on to the same elementary school that Haru is going to next month, will probably be sorted into different classrooms. So in some ways, its a fresh new start for everyone, hence its a true commencement ceremony for the rest of her academic career.
We were all seated in the school auditorium in tiny little chairs that were obviously built for 5 years olds. Most of these chairs were over 30 years old, which is probably as old as or even older than the children’s parents. The stage was tastefully draped in the nation’s flag as well as the school flag. I was a bit concerned that that the lighting was a bit poor because the sunlight blazed the through the glass facade behind the stage causing a back light, making it difficult to take photos of people’s faces without a flash. After tinkering with the million settings on the camera, I was able to get a decent, albeit not perfect setting that allowed me to counter the back light without using a flash.
We sat in the tiny steel and wooden children chairs for about 30 to 45 minutes before the graduating class made their entrance. My back was already killing me, and according to the program, we still had at least another 3 hours that we had to be in the seats. As the children filed in into the the auditorium, sounds of camera shutters fluttered in mass, as if a bunch movie stars were walking down the red carpet. I don’t about anyone else, but I was already in pain from sitting in my chair. At this point, I was just hoping that a blood clot doesn’t form in my leg and go to my brain and kill me before I leave the ceremony.
The head master called each student up to the stage one by one where they were handed their diplomas? graduation certificates? -for a lack of a better description of what those pieces of paper are. Each student received their certificates in a genuine imitation leather folder, and respectfully bowed to the headmaster as they exited the stage as kindergarten graduates. The whole process of reading off each of the student’s name and presenting the certificate to them took about an hour and half.
I occasionally scanned the audience of proud parents as their children received their certificate. Some (like me) were growing restless, as they constantly shifted in their seat in an effort to find a more comfortable position. Some spaced out and sat emotionlessly, as they stared at either the ceiling, the floor, or the walls as they increasingly grew bored with the already long and drawn out ceremony, probably wishing they were somewhere else. Some where captivated by the whole event and snapped pictures non-stop or shot videos of even the less interesting parts (like the speeches that the instructors made). I even spotted some emotional parents in tears as if they were on the verge of an emotional breakdown.
By the time the ceremony was over, my leg was completely numb. I could have stuck a dull and rusted butcher knife into my thigh and not felt a thing because of the numbness. I was happy just to be able to stand up from the old 30 year chairs, so that my blood could flow in my legs again. We all walked back to Haru’s classroom where Haru and her classmates waited. After a few minutes of restlessness, a smaller less eventful ceremony took place. Each student were presented a canvas bag with various items inside. One of the items consisted of a yearbook filled with photos of all of the “class of 2014” students, and various events they participated in during their “senior year.” The only things that were missing were the “most likely to _____.” section, and the notes and signatures from the students. When I got home later that night and flipped through her yearbook, and I could help to think what I would have differently to make the yearbook a bit better and a bit memorable. For example, I would have definitely included a “current events” sections with news clips of some some the major events that happened during Haru’s last year of kindergarten. For example, the Sochi Olympics, the rise of the national sales tax, the capture of the final Aum subway terrorist attack suspects, etc…just to capture significant historic events of the time. For me, it was the fall of the Berlin wall, the Loma Prieta earthquake, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the election of George H.W. Bush. But I guess I sort of captured the history already by mentioning it this blog.
After the final ceremonies were completed, and Haru’s teacher had finisher very tearful speech, we changed venues and moved over to the Yokohama Prince Hotel, for the post graduation banquet. It was held in a pretty lavish banquet hall, complete with waiters, table cloth, and cloth napkins. And the buffet, although made more for small children, wasn’t too bad either. Wow, all of this for a bunch of kindergarteners. I didn’t get anything like this during any of my graduation days.
Haru got to see, what would probably be the very last day she will ever see some of her friends. One of her friends will be moving away, while others will be going to other elementary schools. Even her Disneyland buddy, Ayaka will be going to a different school next month which Ayaka looked noticeably saddened by. Ironically, she only lives only about 5 minutes away, but she lives on the other side of the school district line from us, hence different schools.
For the majority of the banquet, I made it point to take pictures of as many of Haruka’s friends and teachers as I could. Thank goodness for the digital camera, because I snapped close to 1000 photos during the course of the day. Had this been an old fashioned film camera, I would have spent close to $400 USD on film alone. Strangely, Haru preferred to hang around her best friend Yuka, who will be attending the same school next month. In reality though, Yuka is more clingy towards Haru. Prior to to the start of the banquet, I had a chance to speak with Yuka’s father, and he told me that in the 3 years she’s known Haru, she had changed a lot.
Three years ago around this time, Yuka was a very quiet and secluded child who was riddled with various health issues, rarely smiled, and constantly cried. Every morning was an event for Yuka’s mother, because for the longest time, Yuka could not board the morning school bus without breaking into tears. Haru had the difficult job of trying to comfort her every time she got homesick on the bus or during class. Seeing Yuka smile back then was a very rare event, and her parents were very concerned over her well-being. But over the course of the last three years, Haru and Yuka had become very close. Yuka stopped crying, she smiled more, and was able to make her own friends. Haru always remained her best friend to this day. And for this, Yuka’s father thanked me for helping break Yuka out of her darkness. I knew Haru had been a positive influence on her, but I had no idea to what degree until my conversation with Yuka’s father. I could only hope that Haru can remain a positive influence on Yuka as well as others going forward.
Then there is the other Yuka. Yuka Sasaki, who is said to be Haruka’s personality twin and de facto rival. She too is very athletic, and somewhat hyperactive, and has her own following among her own friends. I never really got to know Yuka too well, but from I have heard and seen at the banquet, the assessment that Yuka is Haru’s personality twin is pretty accurate, as they competed at who was better at gymnastics. Although Haru could do more gymnastics moves, Yuka wasn’t too far behind. No one seems to agree with me, I think she kind of resembles a young Corey Feldman. Unfortunately, Yuka is one of the many students who will be going to a different school next month.
Finally, there is Yuna Murakami -another member of Haru’s fan club. She’s a tiny girl, even smaller than Yuka if that is even possible. Up until the graduation ceremony, I only knew her by name so I didn’t know what she looked like. Apparently, she is another one of Haru’s clingy friends. As matter of fact, Yuka and Yuna actually got into a heated fight as to who gets to sit to Haru, which I thought was funny. Eventually, Haru had to settle the argument between the two.
When I was at the graduation banquet, I noticed a very tiny little girl who somewhat resembled a bull terrier puppy, sitting at our table by herself playing with her mom’s digital camera while her mom helped organize the banquet. She is so tiny I initially thought that she was the younger sister of one of the graduates; perhaps a first year student who just wanted to wear the school uniform on graduation day just to fit in. But as it turned out, that was Yuna. Yuna also followed Haru all day, and often jumped into to get a photo op. with Haru. Yuna’s father company recently transferred him to Osaka, so she was moving away in the following weeks, so I felt that it was especially important to get as many photos as possible of her, because she is probably one of the kids Haru will probably never see again.
Haru will be free 2 weeks free, until her first day of elementary school. Until then, she will have somewhat of a busy schedule with her cheerleading and gymnastic practice, ski camp, and other what-nots.
Last Sunday, Haru participated in her second cheerleading festival. The first one took place last year around this time. The cheerleading routine that she had practiced with her teammates for the last several months was much more complicated than it had been at previous events, and included two complicated tumbling moves: a cartwheel, and a one-handed cartwheel (something Haru had mastered only recently). This routine, as it turned out, was more longer and more complicated than some of the routines performed by cheerleaders on other teams who are nearly twice Haru’s age.
Haru had initially struggled with learning the new routine. They had been practicing it for nearly 3 months and at almost every practice. My wife had videoed one of her practices so that she that could watch the routine and practice at home. Two weeks prior to the performance at CheerFest, Haru would practice at home every night, but seemed to not get the routine down, making mistakes with her timing and direction.
Her mid-routine acrobatics where not consistent either. At best, she would nail the one-handed cartwheel only 80% of the time. The other 20% resulted in landing on her knees, or her side, or not being able to do the move at all. So I took her to the gym an hour early prior to every Saturday gymnastics class to make her practice her acrobatics. As we got closer to Cheer Fest day, she made some steady improvements, but still lacked consistency.
On the last cheerleading practice prior to the big event, the day when Haru should have the entire down pat and should not be making any mistakes, she blundered big time. Apparently, she did a front roll instead of doing a cartwheel. This frustrated my wife, and concerns grew over whether or not Haru would be able to pull this off without any mishap.
So pretty much every night from the last night of practice to Cheer Fest Day, we made Haru practice her routine. When she messed up (which was still way too frequent considering the time she had left to get it perfected) we made her start from the beginning. Sometimes she would have to repeat the same move 7 or 8 times or more. As her unofficial gymnastics coach, I was stickler getting her acrobatics looking perfect. However, at this point she had more serious issues with staying in time with the music. She would often move much faster than the timing of the music, which was VERY noticeable in the practice video. She looked out of step, and out of tune with the rest of the team, as if she was doing a different routine entirely, or listening to different music with a different tempo. So, rather than focusing on whether or not her legs are perfectly straight when doing her cartwheels, or if she raised her arms properly after she finished, my wife and Iconcentrated on slowing down her tempo and get her to actually listen to the music and dance to the beat.
It was difficult. It seemed that she lacked the fundamental concept of rhythm and was pretty much beating to her own drum (almost literally). But when we clapped or counted the steps while she danced, she was able to keep the beat. Of course, when she actually does the routine, no one is going to be there counting or clapping for her, so we told her that its okay if she counts out loud even on stage, since no one will hear or notice her doing it. After several attempts, she was able to stay on beat when she counted out loud.
On the morning of Cheer Fest, we made Haru go through her routine one last time. Despite her counting out loud, she was still too fast and stepping out of beat. Ugh…no more time left to practice and she is still not getting it. I sat her down and I told her to just relax and not to worry, and that this was not a competition but just a show. I also told her not to worry about making mistakes and just to smile a lot and have fun. I suspected that perhaps she was too nervous and stressed from the pressure, and that she just needs to relax and get into her zone. She is usually very good on stage so perhaps, she’ll do better once she is on the stage with rest of her team….one could only hope.
We arrived in Kawasaki early in the hopes that we could be close to the stage. I was still struggling with getting my new zoom lens to take good pictures, and I was still getting blurriness, so I wanted to get as close as possible so that I can get good clean shots. The rules for the spectators were a bit stricter than the previous year. Last year, basically it was first come first serve. But apparently this allowed for the people in the front of the line to go in, block off, and save several seats for friends and family members who would arrive much later. So what looked like rows of empty seats, were in reality rows of saved seats for people who would come in an hour or two later, stay for a few minutes to watch their friend or family member perform, then leave -leaving the seats unoccupied once again. This year, the rules state that there would be no seat saving. If you want a seat, you need to be in line or risk not having a seat if you arrive much later. But at the same time, you would be seated in the order you were in line. So, it wasn’t truly free seating, but more like priority seating, with the priority given to those who lined up first. This all sounded great on paper, but in practice, it turned out to be a complete disaster.
Since I was still not quite used to my snazzy new zoom lens, and I wanted to get a seat relatively close to the stage, I did what any other diligent spectator who wanted good seats would do; I lined up early -two hours early to be exact. There were already about 20 people in line ahead of us, so at this rate, we were pretty much guaranteed an unobstructed front row view of the event, or so I thought. Because of the silly new “no seat saving” rule that the event coordinators had put in place, people resorted to cheating the rules, and families would select one person to stand in place for them in line. There may have been a “no seat saving” rule in place, but there was no “no place saving” rule in place. So what looked like only 20 people ahead of us, was in reality 20 “families and friends” ahead of us. As the the event neared, we were gradually pushed back further and further in line, as friends and family members who could not be bothered to stand in line like diligent people like me. Every few minutes it would be “excuse me, my family is up front and we need to join them”. It eventually got so bad that people like me, who had arrived early fore the sole purpose of securing a good seat, were pushed back to about the fifth or sixth row, which was still not so bad, but aggravating none the less. But eventually, the line coordinators caught wind of the injustice, and started blocking late arrivers from rendezvousing with their “place savers”. Any late arrivers was automatically pushed back to the end of the line, which at this point consisted of at least a thousand or more people ahead of them.
The doors finally opened at around 12:30PM. We were siphoned in a very orderly fashion in an effort to keep the ordering the same, so that no one complains that they were separated from the rest of their family. The coordinators where pretty serious about maintaining the order of the line, otherwise people would try to cut ahead and try to get better seats. We calculated that we would be in the fifth row toward the right of the theater, which was perfect since Haru was (stage left) or “theater talk” for the right side of the theater. However, of course things like this never goes according to plan. There would always people who “didn’t know about or hear about the new rules” or for one reason or another, didn’t want to be where they were being seated. The people in front of us where precisely those type of people, and complained and put up a big fuss to the ushers that about how they didn’t like where they were being placed. Since the ushers were trying to siphon in 1000+ people in a single file line (which is insane to begin with) these people where causing a serious delay in seating, because until they accepted their seating arrangements and sat down, no one else could be seated. There were hundred of people standing in the aisles waiting for this one family to sit down, and it was getting very frustrating.
Eventually the inevitable happened. The family that effectively and single handedly caused a 10-15 minute gridlock and delay in an otherwise very structured and orderly seating process, where given the seating arrangements that they wined and moaned about to the ushers and event coordinators. This was bad..VERY bad, because it set off a huge chain reaction of people wanting the same treatment. The grandmas, grandpas, and other friends and family members who didn’t quite make it before the line coordinators started putting late arrivers to the back of the very long line, started requesting demanding that they also be allowed to sit with their family members in the front rows, despite having stood in line for only a few minutes, compared to the 2+ hours we stood in line in the attempt to secure seats in the same general area. At this point, my blood pressure was at about about to explode. I was mad, and I wasn’t the only one. The people sitting next to and behind us started yelling out loud at the ushers. What was the point of standing in that stupid line if you are just going to let anyone sit any where they want? They screamed. I was sympathetic; I was more than sympathetic! I was so much in agreement with them that I joined the protest, as people who were obviously not in line with us, hence much further back in line, began sitting in seats in front of us obstructing my view of the stage.
A few minutes later, the event coordinators made it very obvious that they had completely lost control of the seating process by announcing over the PA system that the seating was now completely free, and people could basically sit wherever the wanted. The event soon went into complete chaos mode, as people vigorously rushed to change seats to be united with family members or be closer to the stage. Ironically, this opened up the seats in front of us because apparently “stage left” was not very hot real estate in terms of seating at this particular event. But it was really good for us. Now we have a relatively unobstructed view of the stage.
There were 14 teams participating this year. There were some familiar names like the Kawasaki Angels, which was home turf for them. And of course the unforgettable Funky A’s and the Atsugi All Stars who are in a league of their own. The Hearties Junior were number eight on the event roster, so it would be another hour or two before Haru’s team made their appearance.
It seemed as if most of the teams have stepped up their game. Even the kindergarten level teams were using complex routines and acrobatics, which they didn’t do last year. It seemed as if this event is slowly but surely becoming an unofficial competition of who looked more awesome. Of course there were still teams who just stuck with the basics, but I noticed that they were not getting too much attention from the spectators, as many were using the time as an opportunity to take a restroom break.
Haru’s team appeared about two hours later. They were one of the first teams to appear with a stepped up routine. Last year when Haru’s team participated, they had a fairly simple and short routine -simple music, no acrobatics…and you could hear some people in the audience say “how cute” because they were the youngest participating team. This year was different, there were a lot of wow’s and gasps of amazement as the cheerleaders incorporated much more gymnastics and dance moves, instead of just the pom pom waving, and cheer chants.
I was a bit nervous. I was already expecting mistakes. Getting the rhythm wrong was a given, but I also saw many cheerleaders stumble, fall, completely miss ques, etc. on the other teams. I even saw one girl miss her cartwheel, and burst into tears as she left the stage with her team. At this point, I was just hoping Haru wouldn’t fall and hurt herself like this girl did. Knowing Haru, something like that would be an absolute travesty to her. It would be a career ending event for her. I could already hear her saying that she never wants to cheer again.
Haru appeared on stage with a big smile on her face. She was already taking my advice to not worry and to just have fun, and that was exactly what she was doing. I zoomed in with my camera to see how she would execute the part that she constantly messed up during practice and at home. I counted out loud as she did the move. Up one, up two, up three, and up four…down one, down two, down three, and down four…she did it with perfect timing…no mistakes so far! Next it was the regular cartwheels…executed perfectly. Next came the heel (a move where she would straightened leg towards her head while trying to maintain balance) -a little hop but her leg was perfectly straight compared to the other girls who had bent their knees a bit. Next the came one handed cartwheel. I couldn’t bare to look! An ever so slight kink in her leading leg, but nearly perfectly done! It was like watching and Olympic figure skating or gymnastics event in that you know if all of the complicated stuff is done, you’re home free. She completed the routine with very little mishap. If I hadn’t watched the practice video and know where her weak points I would have never have noticed the very tiny and insignificant errors that she did make. She did so much better on stage than she did in practice, which is the way it should be.
Shortly after the presentation by the Hearties Juniors, came the much anticipated Funky A’s. Last year, they made a presentation that was no less than amazing. There were small team of maybe about 4 or 5 junior high school to high school aged girls, but their aerobatic presentation set them apart from the other teams by light years. However, this year they were a bit disappointing. I don’t what it was, but they seemed unimpressive compared to the team I saw last year. Perhaps it’s because the other teams had stepped up their routines and aerobatics so much that they pretty much matched what the Funky A’s were doing.
There was one team that kept ahead of the pack -far ahead of the pack, and that was the Atsugi All Stars. They were really good last year, but this year, they really out did themselves. The performance by their top tier team was near professional grade, almost something you would see in a cheerleading competition or a professional sporting event. I think the main difference between the All Stars and the other teams is that the members of the All Stars a far more dedicated to cheerleading than the others. For example, the Hearties meet only once or sometimes twice a week at best to practice for shows done 4 or 5 times a year. The All Stars most likely meet everyday and not only perform at more shows, but also compete, so they tend to be more competition grade cheerleaders.
Haru will move up from the “Peach Team” to the “Clover Team” starting next month which means that she will need to step up as well. There will probably be more pressure to work harder and perfect her moves. Hopefully she is ready for it because, I think the Clover team will be much more competitive than they have been from the looks of it.
Its March again, which means that the madness has begun. The days are bit longer compared to just a few weeks ago, when the night seemed to last forever. The weather is slightly warmer, albeit still cold enough to have to wear a coat outdoors and sometimes indoors. But most of all, March is a very busy month for all of us. For example, Haru will have her usual gymnastics class this Saturday. Then on Sunday, March 9th she will be attending her second Cheerleading Festival. That means that despite it being Sunday (my sleep-in day), we’ll all need to wake up early so we can get a decent place in a VERY VERY long line in the hopes we’ll get decent seats.
But the world still doesn’t slow down after this Sunday, because on March 14 (the following Friday) Haru will have her Kindergarten graduation ceremony, which will surely be an all day bigger than life event, since she will probably not see some of her kindergarten friends ever again after that day. The next day, luckily for me, there will be no gymnastics, but I am sure that I will be dragged off somewhere so its unlikely I will be able to rest. And I will get no sleep on Sunday because Haru has her monthly supplemental cheerleading / tumbling class which starts pretty early in the morning.
The following week will be a bit calmer for me, with a nice rewarding 3 day weekend, but of course, since Haru has no more kindergarten and won’t start school until April, I have a feeling that I still won’t have time for myself. March madness…and so it starts.