Take a journey through one of Japan’s most famous temples courtesy of this spectacular projection mapping light show at the 2015 Sapporo Snow Festival in Sapporo, Japan. Taken with a GoPro Hero 3.
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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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！
I have seen a lot of fireworks in my life, but these fireworks in Osaka were some of the best. I sat near the banks of the Yodogawa River in Osaka with some of my coworkers to take in this amazing festival and all it has to offer. Please enjoy the fireworks. I took this video in full HD for your viewing pleasure.