Last week, I had the pleasure of participating in my Japanese junior high school’s sports day, or in Japanese, 体育会 (taiikukai). It was an unforgettable experience where I took part in the teachers relay against the ninth grade students, joined the teachers for a game of tug of war, and even participated in the traditional Japanese game called kibasen (騎馬戦) where four three people hoist another person above them and engage in mock horse battles. The sights and sounds from this day were remarkable, but my elementary school sports day was even more remarkable.
On Satuday, I arrived at my school around 9:00AM for the start of my elementary school’s undokai (運動会）and quickly realized how it would be a much different affair than the junior high school sports day in several ways. First and foremost, the size of the crowd was much larger and the sports yard was much smaller than at the junior high school. The subsequent effect was a feeling of more energy and excitement packed into the school yard for all of the day’s festivities. The other main difference was that boys and girls participated in the same events and there was less of the segregation that was present in the junior high sports day. I observed this almost immediately when the elementary sports day started.
Following an interesting and memorable march into the athletic field under different Western marching songs and the presentation of colors to the head principle at the school, the students took charge and the sports festival was underway.
Each grade participated in different games and dances/activities that were highly scripted and extensively practiced for the last several weeks. For those of you that went to school in America, you know how lackadaisical people were about field day (if your school even had one), so I was so impressed by the intricacies of the dances and the techniques therein. The second graders did dances and all had different colored gloves. The third graders did a special set of paired dances with hoola-hoops. Fourth graders did synchronized dances with jump ropes and the fifth graders had an amazing synchronized dance to traditional Japanese music. The whole spectacle, much like the junior high school day, was very impressive. After watching both sports days, I wish we had a similar day in the United States. The kids took such great pride in their school, themselves, and their class.
Sixth graders took part in kumitaiso (組体操), which consists of several calisthenic exercises which eventually build up to human pyramids and human towers at the end of the event. It was impressive to watch sixth grade boys and girls form pyramids that were six or seven rows high!
From there, several competitions amongst the students took place. Relay races, games played with throwing balls through hoops, and knocking over targets all were featured prominently. During this time of the day, I mingled with some of my junior high students who have siblings at the elementary school and also chatted with some of my coworkers. It was a great bonding and relationship building experience.
The final event, and most memorable one for me, was a game in which the students rushed to pass a massive ball over their heads around the 200-meter track with the goal of seeing which team could rest it in place first at the end. Following several failed attempts (and one that almost led to one of the tents being flipped), the white team was able to put their ball into the final position and win the day’s last event. All of the kids were so excited; their screaming, yelling, and frantic jumping to make sure the ball never hit the ground was the highlight of elementary sports day for me. The below photo captures the excitement of the final game.
Next on the horizon for both junior high and elementary school is the culture festival, happening towards the end of November.
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