April is such a special month for Japanese because many things start newly in April. In Japan, clocks do not go forward in spring nor do we have Easter, but April itself is enough to make you feel that new things are starting.
In Japan, the school year starts in April. So if you are in Japan on April 1st or early April, you will see many young children dressed up in a brand-new uniform, often complete with a cap with a school crest, walking proudly with their mother. The mother is also dressed up, sometime in a proper kimono, because they have just attended an entrance ceremony (入学式：nyugakushiki) for their child.
You will also notice that those children are bearing the same big, colourful leather bag on their back, just as big as, or often bigger for the first grader, than their own back. This bag is called ランドセル (ran-do-sel). What does this word mean? It is believed to have come from the Dutch word “randsel”, which means a back pack. The wearing of randsels is believed to have started around the end of 19th century, and they are still widely worn by primary school children ( 小学生 : sho-gaku-sei).
Traditionally, randsels are red for girls and black for boys, but now there are more colour variations. A ランドセル is one of the favourite presents from grandparents to their grandchild when they are starting school. Department stores start to display a wide range of ランドセル shortly after New Year.
I used one back in my schooldays. I did not enjoy using it, as it was very heavy, and it was too hot on my back during summer. I remember my back was wet with sweat under the ランドセル. For me, April reminds me of cherry blossoms and the smell of new leather of brand-new ランドセル .
Another thing you might see on April 1st is young men and women wearing brand-new suits, looking a bit uncomfortable in them. They are new graduates who have just started working for a company. Many Japanese new graduates, who have graduated from university in March, start working from April 1st (This is true mainly for big companies: 大企業 dai-ki-gyo). There is a big ceremony called 入社式 (nyu-sha-shiki) on April 1st, where a company president will give them a pep-talk. Right out of universities, they are often not “useful” enough from the start, so they attend training sessions ( 研修 : ken-shu) that usually require extreme hard work to go through them. They are a sort of an induction process, and they are tested if they could survive it!
Often hotels are booked up at the beginning of April because companies book a large number of rooms for their new employees (新入社員：shin-nyu-shain) to stay and attend the training sessions. Sessions include practice in 敬語 (keigo: honorific language), as the proper use of 敬語 is crucial for the business world.
Thus, they will be shaped into サラリーマン (salary-man), with a bitter-sweet realization that they are no longer 大学生 (daigakusei: university student).
I hope April will bring an exciting new beginning to you also!