In Japan, March is the month of graduation. Colleges, schools and universities alike hold graduation ceremonies, which mark the end of one stage in students’ lives. For some people, graduation evokes memories of an era full of school uniforms, cherry blossoms and tubes containing their graduation certificates. Graduation is also a time to say farewell to fellow students who won’t be attending the same school the following semester.
There is a custom for the graduation ceremony of secondary school or baccalaureate students: girls ask the boy they have a crush on to give them the second button from their uniform, called gakusei fuku or gaku ran (学生服 or 学ラン).
Why do they ask for the second button? According to the uniform manufacturer Kanko (http://kanko-gakuseifuku.co.jp/), there are several theories. One of these is that each button on a uniform has its own meaning, and the second button is for “the most important person”. Another theory is that receiving one’s second button means receiving their heart, as this button is next to this vital organ. A third explanation suggests that gakusei fuku or gaku ran dates back to when young soldiers went off to war, claiming that they gave the second button of their military uniform as a gift to the most important person in their life. Soldiers knew that they would be in trouble if their top button disappeared, but a missing second button could go unnoticed. This tradition may also have begun as the result of a film.
The Kyoto Shimbum (https://e.kyoto-np.jp/news/), a daily newspaper published in Kyoto, reports that there are fewer and fewer girls who have experienced receiving a second button. Some reasons for this are the decrease in the number of schools where students wear this type of uniform, and also the fact that graduation ceremonies don’t mean goodbye like they used to, as nowadays students use their smartphones to keep in touch. The fashion magazine CanCam (https://cancam.jp/) explains that, even though there are fewer girls aged between 10 and 29 who have received a button, the tradition is definitely still alive. Does asking for someone’s second button mean anything more than just the memory of a graduation ceremony? A survey published in the magazine found that 90 percent of women who asked for a button received one, and 30 percent of these turned into a romantic relationship.
Is there any similar tradition linked to graduation ceremonies in your culture?