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Good Morning! This School Ritual Could Be the Key to a Great Day

Schools in Japan have many customs but the first energetic greeting of students in morning can set the tone for your students — and you!

By 4 min read

How our days turn out is often determined by how we begin them. If we hit the snooze button on the alarm clock six times (or seven or eight… ), wake up tired, with headaches or on the “wrong” side of our beds — basically as described John Lennon and Paul McCartney in “A Day in the Life” on the Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — we’re probably not going to have a “good day.” The middle part of the song starts:

Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up I noticed I was late…

As ALTs, this means that not only will we be dragging ourselves through the day, but also our lessons will suffer — and that directly affects our students and their intellectual growth. A good song, but overall it describes a bad situation that I do not recommend.

So, let’s get up early and on the “right” side of the bed, allow ourselves enough time to eat some breakfast and make our bus (or train or whatever) in more than just “seconds flat.” Also, rising earlier allows us to get to school quickly and that means we can join in the morning ritual of aisatsu, or greetings

Within the context of a Japanese school, these salutations take on a life of their own.

The practice of aisatsu involves most (if not all) teachers and school staff standing outside the school gate and bellowing out to all incoming students: “Ohaiyo (Good morning)!” This is usually very early in the morning and happens rain or shine (or blizzard or typhoon or windstorm… ). During the winter months, teachers wear long down jackets and snow boots while in the summer, everyone becomes sunburnt and sweaty.

Why on earth do they do this? It’s a long standing tradition with many deeply rooted cultural reasons but, simply put, it’s a nice way to start the day. It’s nice for the students to hear a cheerful, welcoming phrase as they walk into school.

Going to work don’t want to go feeling low down […]
I’ve got nothing to say but it’s OK
Good morning, good morning
(The Beatles, “Good Morning Good Morning.” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967)

Sure, there is a school bell marking the time that the students technically have to be in the school building each day, but the bell is kind of like an alarm clock; unfriendly and impersonal (perhaps a tad annoying, too). “Aisatsu” is the opposite; it’s a warm, friendly voice calling the students into the school.  To carry over the metaphor, it’s like getting up on the “right” side of the bed (“right” side of the school?). Imagine awakening to a friendly voice saying “good morning” instead of the sound of an alarm … exactly.

The students study hard and often go to school from the very early morning into the late evening (eight days a week, to continue The Beatles references?). They have up to six periods of academic lessons per day, along with intense extracurricular club activities. Then, many students go to juku (cram school) and study more. It may seem arduous, but you will certainly set the tone for a good day by starting it with an upbeat: “Ohaiyo!”

So, where do we, as ALTs, fit into this practice? Well, as mentioned, nearly all teachers and school personnel participate in the ritual and ALTs are staff members, too. Your participation in aisatsu instills a sense of bonding and camaraderie with your colleagues. Basically, it’s good to be a team player and if the whole team is taking part — then maybe you should, too.

Additionally, as ALTs, it’s fun to stand amongst the Japanese school staff who are yelling “ohaiyo” and start calling out “good morning!” in English. Heads will turn, and many students will enjoy yelling back “good morning!” Look at that: the students are practicing a useful English phrase and it’s not even first period, yet!

My advice? Even if your personal schedule does not allow you to partake in the ritual of aisatsu regularly, try it at least once. I guarantee it will energize your morning more than a venti caramel macchiato with an extra shot of espresso (though one of those couldn’t hurt, either).

Do you take part in your school’s morning aisatsu greetings? How does it help to motivate you and/or your students?

The writer of this piece is an ALT teaching in Japan with RCS.

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