The first two weeks at school were dominated by the Sports Festival (taikusai) and Cultural Festival (bunkasai). Both took place on the weekends and were a chance for the school and students to show off all their hard work of the previous term and a summer of sports practice. Essentially it is a competition which covers everything from sport, singing and art. The three year groups are divided in to five teams; purple, red, blue, yellow and green. Each team receives points for each event during both festivals and they are totalled up to one final score and one team is declared the winner. From the start one thing was clear: students really, really wanted to win!
My expectations of a normal track-and-field sports day were completely blown away when I saw practices for many events which were new to me. The 100m sprint was about the only thing the day had in common with a British sports day. Other events included the 11-legged sprint, a tug of war, skipping with twenty students in time with each other and a relay race with twenty students in each team!
One event, reminiscent of the Hunger Games, was a game involving car and tractor tyres. Each team, divided in to girls and boys, stood around the edge of a pentagon with a pile of tyres in the middle of the field. When a gun was shot they all sprinted to the tyres and then ran with it back to their base. The team with the most tyres at their base wins. Yet it was not a simple as it may seem as some tyres were huge and needed at least two people to carry or roll them back to their base. In the meantime another team may also be after the same tyre so rugby scrum-type fights break out over the tyre. Even the first year girls were pulling each other across the dusty playing field for the tyre! In one feisty fight for the last ‘Golden Tyre’ a boy was knocked down and had to be carried off the pitch! I heard he passed out from heat stroke but I’m sure this game didn’t help either. The health-and-safety officers in England would sure close the school down for this but the teachers here were cheering the students on in their conquests!
The principal, dressed neutrally in white, sat and watched the whole day’s activity as did officials from the local area under the shade of a tent. I expect the way the day plays out affects the image of the school for the next year. When I stooped in to the gymnasium a previous morning I found all of the 500 students practising siting down and standing up in the quickest time possible! They also have to sit in perfectly straight rows, and not fidget, even when sitting in the direct sun without no sunhat. I sometimes wonder if I’m at a school or an army camp!
The most obvious difference between this sports day and one I’m more familiar with is that it was all about the group doing well. Individual names and times for races were not noted down, only the students colour – which was easily identified as they wore a haki matchi around their fore head. The games did not test who was the fastest or strongest student but which team worked the best together. I’d love to take some of these ideas and principles back to the UK as I think we have a lot to learn from this sort of competition. Furthermore, the games are a lot more fun than the normal athletics events I’m use to!
The highlight of the day was the cheerleading contest. The rules are as followed. Each team must perform a three minute cheerleading routine which includes the sixty or seventy students in each team. An elected group of third-years devise a routine, with the help of their teacher, and find suitable music to go with it. Then the practising begins. Like the precision desired for sitting in straight rows, all students must be synchronised to score highly. So for a week and a half the teams gathered out in the afternoon sun and went through each move of the dance. The finish products were impeccable and I would’ve found it hard to judge between the routines!
When all the events were over, the closing ceremony begun and the results were announced. The purple team and green team were in the lead. I saw tears coming from both winning and losing teams and it was clear how much this meant to them. I congratulated everyone as, in my eyes, they were all INCREDIBLE!
So the following weekend the theme was not sport but art and music. As always, it started with an opening ceremony where the teachers and school council members performed a skit. Roles changed in more ways that I imagined. Both students and teachers cross-dressed, students scolded the teachers and the strictest teacher of them all did a cheer leading routine! I loved how the teachers got so involved, and obviously enjoyed the excitement of both festivals.
On the first day each homeroom class had to paint a two metre by one metre board. Again, how twelve students worked together to paint a picture, without any squabbling, amazes me! Then in the afternoon, there was a choir competition. I was surprised to find myself sat next to the principal, as one of the judges, even though I can’t understand Japanese and am by no means musical! I did my best to choose the most impressive group, the best pianist and the best conductor. Again I was surprised to hear even the coolest third-year boys singing their heart out for the competition even when they were not the most natural of singers!
The finale of the second day was a brass-band extravaganza which got everyone up on their feet and started dancing! The atmosphere was incredible. So far I had not played a major role in the festivals, apart from encouraging the students and taking photos. Yet when I was asked if I wanted to be in a dance with other teachers I jumped at the chance to get involved. So for many hours after work, the English teachers and I practiced a dance to the famous J-pop group AKB48. On the day I was pretty nervous, but having seen other teachers go and make a fool of them self I thought I didn’t have much to lose! The kids loved the dance and were standing on their chairs clapping. It was so much fun to be part of it and I got so many comments from students saying the usual ‘kawaii’ meaning ‘cute’!
Throughout the day parents, younger siblings and friends came to the school to enjoy the free soba-noodles and take part in the students’ activities, like the House of Horror they had made. It was a fantastic weekend and one in which I was repeatedly amazed at the talent and the effort of the students and teachers! Now I wonder, what will a normal school week be like?