‘No singing, eat in silence’: How Japanese schools have stayed open despite the pandemic

Tomohiro Osaki:

This is the first in a two-part series on how the nation’s schools continued with in-person classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The upbeat theme song of popular anime series “Lupin the Third” reverberated throughout the building of a Tokyo elementary school on a recent balmy afternoon. The music came from a courtyard where a bevy of sixth graders had taken center stage and were playing accordions, metallophones and keyboards — instruments that don’t generate droplets — under the mesmerized gaze of an audience of hundreds of schoolchildren.

The performance by the final-year students at Funabori Elementary School in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward took place under the state of emergency in early March — just weeks before their graduation — as a way for them to say thank you to the younger pupils and teachers they would leave behind.

It’s an annual tradition that always touches the hearts of teachers about to send off students, but this year the concert took on an even greater emotional significance: In an academic year that saw the COVID-19 pandemic wipe out a sports festival and other major school events, it was the first all-school gathering that teachers at Funabori Elementary had managed to pull off, albeit with a plethora of restrictions.

“We usually hold this performance in our gymnasium, but we can’t do that anymore because no all-school gathering is allowed in one place under the board of education’s guidelines,” principal Mio Sato said.