Sport’s Day was an interesting experience. I think it’s one of those things that is way different from America (i.e., not even present, at least in my knowledge). Students prepare for the competitions, tons of running, and dances and acrobatics starting a month or so beforehand. I barely had classes through September due to Sport’s Day. The kids get really into it and all claim it’s tons of fun, though when the sun is sweltering and the graveled track hurts their knees, I don’t think they enjoy themselves too much.
But it sure is fun to watch!
First comes the marching. For at least two hours, the students have to practice marching in rhythm. (It’s probably more in reality, but when I watched practice, it was two hours for that day.) As marching isn’t particularly interesting, I have no picture of it for you, but it’s one of those “Whoa, Japan lurves its uniformity” moments. Especially at Muchuu (the biggest school) because there are just so many students doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same rhythm.
After marching comes the obligatory speech.
Speeches are very important parts of Japanese life. It creates a sense of propriety, of politeness, and maybe the old-school style of condescension. There are usually three speeches to start: one from the PTA, one from the school principal, and one from a student. Occasionally, like at my smaller schools where the nearby Elementary schools combined their Sports Day with the Middle schools, there’s one speech by each Principal.
Being as I can’t understand much of anything in their Super-Polite-Japanese, I usually zone out.
Man, we had the exact same face.
So, on this special Sunday (September 21), all three of my middle schools decided to have their Sports Day. So I went to one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one finished it off–about two hours each. I missed some cool things because of this, like sumo and clever skits, but I think I got a pretty good idea of what goes on–especially when I watched them practice before the actual day.
So the schools are split into teams that compete against one another. In each competition, they can earn a certain amount of points to win. Though, at many schools–like Iki High School–students can win prizes beyond just athleticism. Not so at my middle schools, though. A bit sad, but maybe they’re too small. Teams were red, yellow, and white/blue. Larger schools have more teams.
A lot of what the kids have to do are different levels of relays and races: 100m, 200m, 400m, 1000m relay, gimmicky relays, whatever you can think of that involves running, they probably do it. I was very impressed by their speed though. I’m as slow as a lazy hippo, so anything faster than 10km/hour is pretty crazy to me.
The ways the students invented to do relays were truly amazing. Aside from the ones I’ve shown here, they have “special shoes”: the students run half-way and then have to change into different shoes. They included things like
- Traditional Japanese shoes
- Baby shoes
- A child’s tricycle
Some obviously harder than others.
There were also teacher’s relays (like the one shown below), or where teachers had to play a kids game–pushing a metal hoop with a stick around–to go forward. My favorite was the second year elementary schoolers pushing around a ball the size of them.
There is also, like at Iki High School, a tug-of-war. At Muchuu, the students played Taiko at the same time, which was fun to watch. (See newest blog post for fun times with Taiko.) The PTA/teachers joined in once, and totally bit the dust. That was fun to see. I took pictures and did not participate.
In between relays and tug-of-wars and races, students also do acrobatics (nail-bitingly dangerous!) and traditional dances. I nearly had a heart attack four times while the kids practiced their acrobatics. Standing up 10, 20, 25 feet in the air on top of shoulders! At one of Yuka’s schools, the student at the top fell off and broke his wrist. And the response to all this? “Ganbatte! (Fight! You can do it!)” Mind-boggling, but damn interesting to see. Very impressive when they don’t get hurt.
One of my smaller schools did traditional dancing at the same time as the acrobatics, which made for some very cool “Oooh” and “Aaah” moments (not the AHHHHH! of fear as above, though). There’s a dance that all three schools did called “Soran Bushi” which is about fishing. Makes a bit of sense considering that Iki is a fishing town. I even learned a few steps, but it’s difficult for me because I’m not nearly as flexible as these crazy Japanese girls.
The dancing itself is pretty cool, especially when the students get into it. Sometimes they just stared off into space like the girl in my opening picture, but some people just got into it like acting. That was really exciting to see and brightened up the dancing a great deal.
The boys did traditional dances too–though where they really shined was in the acrobatics (boys are much less afraid of hurting themselves than girls, so they are willing to climb onto wobbly pyramids and all that jazz). I wish I could have seen the sumo, but I guess I’ll live. I’m sure I’ll have more chances in the future.
So here’s my parting shot. Let me know if you have any questions. It was a lot of fun to go to and watch, and interacting with the kids is great. It was also very hot.