Drone show gives closing school a special farewell

Drones with LEDs spell out the Japanese letters for “arigatou” (thank you) in katakana, ending a show marking the closing of Higashi-Ogawa Elementary School in Ogawa, Saitama Prefecture, on March 25. Students, school officials and parents watched from the balconies of the school.
The Yomiuri Shimbun

OGAWA, Saitama — Before the curtain was brought down on a local elementary school being closed because of a lack of students, the last student body was treated to a spectacular show that was put on in the sky instead of a stage.

A special drone light show in the schoolyard at Higashi-Ogawa Elementary School in Ogawa, Saitama Prefecture, on the evening of March 25 gave the students one final, dazzling memory and ensured the school went out on a bright note.

All 65 students spent the three months leading up to the flashy farewell thinking of images and messages of gratitude that would sum up their school memories, which a specialist drone company programmed into 64 small drones equipped with LEDs. The drones automatically moved into aerial formations to depict the images against the night sky.

The 64 drones used in the show are arranged in the schoolyard before the event.
The Yomiuri Shimbun

A total of seven images were depicted including a flower, to symbolize the rich nature surrounding the school; hearts, to express the kindness of the students; and a great purple emperor butterfly, the national butterfly of Japan, which had been bred at the school. A narration made by the students was played over a loudspeaker.

Hearts depict the kindness of the school’s students.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Drones form a great purple emperor butterfly. Real butterflies were bred in the school.
The Yomiuri Shimbun

After the butterfly was re-created in the sky, the 10-minute show was capped by the drones spelling out the word “arigatou” — a final message of thanks from the students to the school.

Students, parents, school officials and others reflected on the school’s 39-year history as they watched from the school’s balconies.

The school planned the show with major telecommunications company NTT Docomo, Inc., which has carried out various activities featuring drones. The show was arranged with the hope that the drones would be a means of communication that would keep the students, teachers, parents and local residents connected even after the school closed down.

“With the pandemic, we may not have been able to create the memories we imagined,” said Seiko Sugo, 57, the school’s last principal. “But I think tonight’s drone show created by all the students will become a one-of-a-kind treasure for each one.”

Shizuku Sato, a sixth-grader at the school, was impressed by the performance. “To make a drone show ourselves is a valuable opportunity that we might only get once in our lives. I think I’ll never forget this,” she said. “I was especially impressed when the butterfly flapped its wings, like it was taking off toward the future.”

Fellow sixth-grader Takumi Takahashi had a similar sentiment. “I’m sad that Higashi-Ogawa Elementary School will close, but I think the school was happy watching the show that we all made together.”

The operation of the drones was done by Kanazawa-based Drone Show Co. “First off, we almost never get requests to do a drone show at a school,” said company President Yuki Yamamoto, 38. “And this was the first time to put on a show marking the closing of a school. In the future, I think drone shows will become more common at events like this or in connection with festivals all over Japan.”

The school opened in 1983 as many houses were constructed in the area, and it reached its peak in 1993 with more than 600 students. Its closure is the result of school mergers due the nation’s chronically low birth rate and other factors, and no decision has been made yet on what will happen to the school building. A committee established by the municipality will reportedly consider the issue.

Students, teachers and school officials pose for a commemorative photo in the school gymnasium after the drone show ended without a hitch.
The Yomiuri Shimbun

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