In Japan, Sports Day is a big event for elementary and junior high schools. In Japanese it’s called an undōkai (運動会), and it’s usually held on a Saturday or Sunday. Most schools that I know do it on a Saturday, at least all of my schools in my area do. Usually, the Sports Day is chosen by the city’s Board of Education, so then all of the schools under that jurisdiction will have Sports Day on the same day. Itako 2nd and Hinode JHS usually have their Sports Day in May/ June. Some schools schedule their sports days during cooler months, but in my area we are in the heat and sun all day long. This year I went to Itako 2nd Junior High School’s Sports Day.
Sports Day is a really important event for the schools. About two or three weeks before, students will practice their chosen sport events (some are chosen by the students and some are considered “traditional” and chosen by teachers at the school). My students would at first just practice for the event during P.E., but a few days preceding Sports Day we had half days devoted to rehearsals for it. Students will have their tamaire to practice for as well as their sports events. Tamaire are performances by the school band and presentations by various school clubs as well as individual and group competitive events.
Students and teacher at the schools will get divided into team colors. My school had red, blue, and yellow. I’m not entirely sure how they divide up the students into each team, but they are grouped together about evenly with students from all three school grades. They will each get about two or three teachers that are their coaches for the Sports Day event. I was on blue team this year because the English teacher in charge of me, Nesaki-sensei, was also on the blue team.
The teams compete during the events to collect points through victories. Whichever team has the most points will win a trophy.
And that’s part of one of the reasons the event is important for the students. The parents come to the school to watch their children at the event. As a part of Japanese culture, the children are a reflection of their families, so when the kids win then the whole family wins. The losing teams can get upset, because they feel like they’ve let down their parents, and also their teachers, for not succeeding. However, most parents and teachers just brush it off and tell their kids it’s fine to lose if you tried your best, at least they do at my school.
Every team also compete for another trophy: the Best Dance Trophy. Every team memorizes and practices a dance that they must perform in front of family and friends. They get judged by the PTA, the Principal, and others for who did the best show. The kids enjoy this part the best, I think, because it can be a lot of fun to choose the music and the dance moves together. This year, the red team won the best dance.
Some of the sport events for Itako 2nd were the running relay, the three legged race, tug-of-war, an obstacle course, and the “grab the color” game where boy students put a smaller boy on their shoulders. All the boys are wearing helmets, and they try to grab a colored piece of fabric off another boy’s helmet. This event terrifies me, because without fail every year someone falls and gets hurt.
Sidenote: If you’re wondering why the faces are covered, it’s because I’m actually not legally allowed to show pictures of my students online, as in blogging, Facebook, or any kind of social media. I can only do it if their faces are unrecognizable and their names on their shirts not seen. High school ALTs can usually take pictures and post them wherever and no one cares, but most elementary and junior high schools forbid it. They are trying to prevent possible perverts from tracking down the kids in the pictures. If you’re an ALT at those levels, be sure to ask permission before you post any and all pictures of your students as you could get into a huge amount of legal trouble if you don’t.
This year, the blue team won! We made it through with the most points and even did a victory lap. I was exhausted at the end, but it was all good fun. This makes it the fourth year for the blue team to win. Let’s see if they’ can keep it up next year!