What’s a Japanese spring without university entrance ceremonies in cherry blossom season? That’s precisely what happened last year after many festivities were canceled due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Things then took a turn for the worse. For the class of 2020, campus life in Japan was reduced almost entirely to remote lectures and online interactions with people the students never actually met in person.

One year later, universities nationwide are getting ready to hold a new round of entrance ceremonies and welcome new students, albeit with strict precautions observed by both the faculty staff and the freshmen.

The University of Tokyo, which was the first institution in Japan to hold online lectures when the outbreak emerged last year, announced earlier this month that an in-person entrance ceremony will be held at Nippon Budokan Hall — the university’s traditional venue — on April 12.

The University of Tokyo is by no means the only university to stake out a claim at Nippon Budokan Hall — Toyo University and Meiji University have booked the venue as well. Nippon Budokan Hall had been off-limits for these events in 2020 as it was being renovated for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Back in business, Nippon Budokan Hall’s entrance ceremonies may pave the way for other large event venues to open their doors.

NHK reported on March 10 that some universities in the Kansai area are holding double ceremonies — one for freshmen students, and another for sophomores that missed out on their own in-person ceremonies last year.

Since that report hit the Internet, universities in the Kanto area have been rushing to hold double ceremonies of their own.

“I can finally wear the entrance ceremony suit that I was supposed to wear last year,” a 19-year-old student from Sophia University is quoted as saying in a report on Yahoo News.

The student has been attending lectures remotely for a year from his parents’ home in Osaka, and said that the ceremony will mark the first time he will set foot on Sophia’s campus. Sophia University will be holding a total of six entrance ceremonies over three days, to avoid congestion and ensure social distancing.

“I want to give the students the chance to take selfies under the cherry blossoms, and so have created six locations on campus for this purpose,” a staff member at Seikei University was quoted as saying in the same article. “This move has drawn some very positive feedback from parents. Everyone had to wait for an entire year, but I’m glad we’re finally making this happen.”

Speaking of parents, they’re actually banned from attending the entrance ceremonies this year. This represents a crushing blow to parents, many of whom had been looking forward to this day for years with some viewing their own participation as a matter of course.

According to a survey of 6,000 parents conducted by Benesse Corp., 60% of mothers and 25% of fathers said they had attended entrance ceremonies for their college-age offspring in the past.

At some ceremonies, family members have been seen to outnumber the students. Tokyo University for example, is famed for the hordes of older people that attend each year, elbowing each other and craning their necks to see their offspring in suited finery. With this in mind, architect Tadao Ando delivered an entrance speech in 2008 that still resonates today.

“I want to stress that in order to become an independent adult, one should leave the nest immediately,” Ando said, noting that 3,000 freshmen and more than 6,000 family members were present on the day.

“Please look upon today as the day your children leave the nest,” he told parents. “Parents should sever ties with their offspring. Children should gain freedom from their parents.”

This year, it seems, the pandemic seems to be making it easy to do just that.

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