Japanese Sports Day (体育会)

This weekend, my junior high school in Kobe had its sports day festival (体育会 in Japanese), which is something unlike any event that I have ever seen or witnessed in the United States. For those of you who went to school in the US, imagine something along the lines of field day and combine that with pomp and circumstance and traditional games and activities. The whole day is something I will never forget. 

For the past three weeks, my school and my students had tirelessly practiced, rehearsed, and reviewed for Saturday’s festivities. I did not understand why so much preparation was going into the event, but after witnessing it all unfold, I have such a great appreciation for all of the sacrifices that were made in the weeks prior to the sports festival. 

The whole day started very early on Saturday as I joined other teachers in setting up the seating for parents and neighbors out on the dirt school yard. Once that was finished, the opening ceremony and other festivities finally began. All of the homerooms made their own flags and marched in formation around the “track” on our school yard. As the students marched, Western-style military marches were played to help the students keep in step. It was a remarkable thing to see. Everyone was in step and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. 

Once the opening ceremony was finished, the games began. From relay races to traditional dances, I enjoyed watching the games even though I did not understand what was happening at all times throughout the day. Prior to lunch, our students did some amazing human formations during what is called kumitaiso 組体操。The students made certain synchronized body movements with their hands and arms and then continued on to make human pyramids and towers. No one fell and no one complained about being on the bottom of the pyramids; I will not forget watching it all unfold. 

Following a traditional Japanese bento lunch, I returned to the school ground and was asked to participate in the traditional game they call kibasen (騎馬戦). I was thrilled to be asked by some of the students to participate and willingly joined along for this game. Kibasen is a game where three people hoist a fourth person into the air and walk around the school yard, with the actions and movements mimicking those of a person riding a horse. Once all teams have one of their members atop the “horse,” the teams charge towards each other, with the end goal of removing the hats from opposing teams. I will never forget being a part of such a traditional and enjoyable activity like this. I spoke with many other people who are teaching English in similar situations across Japan and none of them had the opportunity to participate in games outside of the relay, let alone kibasen! I am grateful for this opportunity and will never forget taking part in the game!

My experience with kibasen and being a part of sports day was memorable and is something I will never forget. Everything from the perfect weather the synchronized marches and the traditional games made this an unreal experience on all levels. It was also great to meet many of my students’ parents, as well. 

Below is a photo of me taking part in the kibasen game with some of my students. とても楽しかったです!