運動会

28 Sep

ImageAs promised, a post about Chuo Junior High School’s undoukai or “sports day.”  In anime and maga or other Japanese publications translated into English, undoukai is often translated, for whatever reason, as “sports festival.”  I’m not sure if that’s to make it match the only other school event of equivalent scale and participation, bunkasai, which actually does mean “culture festival” when directly translated to English, or if it’s an attempt to sell more volumes through making Japanese school customs seem strange and foreign, but whatever the case, I would hardly call the undoukai a festival of any sort.  While the name translates directly to “exercising meet” (運動 or undou means “exercise” and 会 or kai means “meeting”), it’s essentially the Japanese equivalent of the American concept of “field day”– a day where kids from each homeroom compete against one another in races, relays, and other miscellaneous fun sporting events.

The day started, as many days start, with confusion, because no one had any idea what the other ALT and I were supposed to do, and as usual, didn’t really care enough to try to tell us at all.  We wandered around feeling lost for a while before finally, someone made space for us in the teachers’ tent.  Hurrah!  From there, we could see the opening ceremony where the students marched around with their class flags, which each class drew and painted themselves.  The principal said a few words, and then the kids did a warm up and some stretches before the events were to begin.

First up with the races, starting with 150 meter and, second, 60 meter.  At this point, the music (which played continuously throughout the day) became rather strange; first, internet meme songs like Carameldansen were the musical accompaniment for the races (known in Japan as the “umauma” song, and known mostly for the tons of videos online of anime characters doing a silly dance with their hands on their heads).  However, after a few other Japanese internet meme songs, what began to play surprised me a lot: music from the Prince of Tennis musicals.  Granted, sports-related music was appropriate considering the circumstances, but as the Prince of Tennis musicals are a rather small part of Japanese pop culture, I was surprised nonetheless.

Up next was the “race while biting bread.”  This is exactly what it sounds like: the kids run with bread in their mouths.  Close to the starting line, some teachers and other students hold a pole from which a few pieces of bread are dangling.  The kids must grab the bread with their mouths then run a short distance the finish line.  As far as I can tell, this is something that doesn’t often appear in American field days, and it was very fun to watch (though some poor kids struggled to bite the bread long after other kids had crossed the finish line…).  One kid managed to not detach his bread, but ran the whole race with the entire pole!  It was quite exciting.

Next were the longer races… and also when they began to play music by Arashi! I haven’t mentioned it here, but I coached a student for the English speech contest back in August, and since then, we’ve been friendly, and since she was in the teacher’s tent to announce the results (kids had been taking turns using the loudspeaker to announce), she danced with me to the Arashi music!  It was a lot of fun.

After the 800 and 1000 meter races were the hurdles and a fun race called the “borrowed item race!”  Each student had to quickly grab a piece of paper, upon which an item was written.  The student then had to run and grab that item, which might be anything from a tennis racket to chairs from the PTA tent to some of the teachers, though thankfully not me.  It was amusing to watch the kids run around searching for the things, and occasionally having to drag their teachers across the field.

The next student event was the 4 x 100 relay.  But first, there was a PTA event… that, for some reason, the other ALT and I were expected to participate in? It was a game called tamaire, which literally translates to something like “getting the ball in.”  It was a really simple (and, I’m told by my JTE “very Japanese”) game where one attempts to throw a small ball into a basket that’s at the top of a tall pole.  Predictably, as I am the opposite of tall, I got zero balls in the basket.  Such is life.

After the relay, then, was lunch, and after that, the club relays!  It was interesting to see all the clubs in their club uniforms, but unfortunately, while some teams, like track and field, had a huge advantage, others, like tennis, were forced to do irrelevant tasks while running (in the case of tennis, bouncing a ball on their rackets while running).  Needless to say, track and field won.

After the club relays were group jumprope and tug of war, both similar to their American field day equivalents.  There was also the relay with everyone in each class, which was both the longest and most dramatic event.  But then, when all the points were being tallied came the last event: the folk dance.

I’m not really sure why there’s a folk dance in undoukai.  However, in every anime I’ve seen and manga I’ve read with undoukai, there’s always a folk dance, where the girls and boys line up and make a circle and… do a Western folk dance of some sort (I guess? I’m not a folk dance expert).  Approximately 30 seconds before the dancing started, the principal asked the other ALT and I to join the girls’ line, since there was a severe lack, despite the fact that we didn’t know the dance steps and didn’t really want to have to dance with fourteen year old boys.  But we somehow survived, hurrah.  Good think I’ve spent my life learning how to pick up choreography quickly

After the folk dance, the winners were announced, trophies were given, and then the undoukai came to a finish!  It was really fun to watch, and though I wish I had had a team to cheer for, I really enjoyed it (…the parts that I wasn’t suddenly asked to participate in). Unfortunately, because it’s against school policy to allow anyone to post photos of the students on the internet without explicit written permission, I can’t post many photos of the undoukai.  But… have a photo os the setup and of me and my fello ALT looking goofy?

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