Residence: Irvine, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/29/12
Primary Language: Japanese
In Japan, there is a custom whereby the graduating students of a high school, after the graduation ceremony is over, run into the main courtyard and throw eggs and flour at each other.
My informant spent most of her life in the city of Naha in Okinawa, Japan, and participated in this custom at the end of her three years at Shuri School. She said that all except the dullest of students participated, and that there were always a few students assigned each year to buy the eggs and flour for the entire graduating class. They’d throw indiscriminately until everyone was covered in doughy gunk. Friends would oftentimes chase each other around. My informant said that it must have been the freest time of her life, and a time she couldn’t look back to without nostalgia. There was all the anticipation and excitement for the future, she said, and she remembered how freely everyone was laughing, so incredibly happy if only because, deep down inside, they knew they’d be leaving each other soon. In a way, this custom would be the last ritual of high school they would be able to exercise.
But how had this custom come about? My informant said that it was probably because the graduates wanted to celebrate their new-found freedom from the school system. Japanese schools are traditionally very strict about their dress codes, requiring uniforms from pre-school on to the end of high school. The uniforms come to define the students by the school they go to, and are symbolic of their obedience and compliance to the educational systems of Japanese society. Many students, even back in the seventies when my informant when to high school, must have felt some frustration for these rules, and for the lack of freedom that this allowed their individuality. In most schools, my informant said, there were and still are, rules about the length of girls’ hair, and the color of students’ socks. Therefore, throwing eggs and flour after the graduation ceremony and ruining (if only temporarily) the uniforms that had defined them for three years is a form of modest, socially acceptable rebellion–all in good fun, the students’ way of saying to their teachers and to the school, we don’t need to listen to you anymore! Since there’s probably nothing that causes more of a mess and is as easily obtained as eggs and flour, this exact custom had come about.
Strangely enough, when I was telling one of my Korean friends about this custom, he told me that his friends in a Korean high school had done the exact same thing upon their graduation. It seems, then, to be a custom in some or all parts of Korea as well. Perhaps this custom is something that runs as a common thread between Asian countries because of the widespread use of school uniforms, and strict school policies. Similar to the way that American high school graduates throw their caps in the air after their graduation as a small form of rebellion and show of their independence, Japanese and Korean students throw eggs and flour at each other to mark their freedom from the uniforms that had defined them for most of their youth.