Every year, in America, elementary school students and teachers have a morning of fun near the end of the school year. Field day stands out in the memories of Americans across our great land as a day full of running short races, tug of war, water balloon tosses, and obstacle courses. I remember being in Elementary school and having a great time every year for field day. My favorite memory is the year we had a water relay. Each person was given a bucket and water had to be passed between the buckets, often in creative ways. One way I remember is that the water had to be sluiced down the slide and collected at the bottom. This day was great fun and it was a sad day when I found out that there would be no field day in junior high school. Field day was a fun day that meant, at least, part of a school day off, and usually an ice cream treat at the end of the day. A highlight to any school year.
Here in Japan there is no field day. Instead there is a sports festival. It is field day on a grand and serious scale. There is a sports festival at every school in Japan. They begin having sports festivals at the nursery schools and go all the way through high school. The sports festival at my junior high was held about two weeks ago. It was a great day filled with races, fun and dancing. The day began early. I was stepping onto the athletic field around 8:30 in the morning. I still think that 8:30 is early for a Saturday. Oh, did I forget to mention that the sports festivals are all held on Saturdays? No need to miss out on a precious school day here kids; field day is on a Saturday. That did not stop them from missing class time though, as they canceled afternoon classes all week to allow time to practice for the sports day. When I arrived early in the morning the students were all sitting in their straight rows listening intently to the principal give the welcome speech. Each class was split into two lines that stretched parallel across the gravel field, one for boys and one for girls. Perfectly organized and straight, for my eyes it was a sight to behold and marvel at. Once the welcome speech was concluded the classes split up into their teams. There were six teams and they were color coded: pink, blue, red, green, yellow, and orange.
The morning was spent running races and competing in traditional field events. There were students jumping the high jump. throwing shot put, long jumping, and of course running races. There were many races. Students had their work cut out for them as the day was a very hot one. The sun was very unforgiving that day. I found myself with a sunburn at the end of the day. I had a great time watching and cheering for all of my students that day. They ran and I cheered. I split my time walking from team to team encouraging them to do their best. Jenny and Logan came to watch and Logan and I had a great time rooting for the different teams. The morning seemed to play out like a traditional track and field meet. The only difference was that right before lunch there was jump-rope competition. A class would form a line. Then two students would grab the ends of a giant rope and they would twirl it over the heads of the class and they would jump. It was amazing to see classes of almost forty kids jumping together in unison.
After lunch it was time for dancing. Each team created, choreographed, and danced their own original dance. The teams even chose their own music. I think that this was my favorite part of the day. I have seen kids run races before. I have even run in a few in my time, but the dancing was unique. I thought that it was cool to see close to a hundred kids out on the field all dancing together. Each team took a turn and each one seemed to end with a human pyramid. They all were very similar, but yet it was a truly unique event.
The day ended with the awards ceremony. The winning team was named and trophies and certificates were awarded by the principal. The students once again lined up in their perfectly straight rows of boys and girls for this part of the day. It was an end to the day, I was a bit sad however that there was no ice-cream from the principal. I was certainly glad to make my way home as it was now almost five o'clock in the evening.
But my friends this is not the end of our sports day tale. Last Saturday Logan was invited to the sports festival at the kindergarten that he will begin attending this week. We went for the morning to watch and meet some of the people. Now where the students at my school were very serious the sports festival at the kindergarten was nothing but cute. The students would line up to race. The teacher would say go. The students would run from one side of the playground to the other into the waiting arms of their teacher. Every one is a winner when the race ends with a hug. Logan was even invited to run in one of the races. He and I ran across the playground and were presented with a prize of origami paper. We also got to see the students dance. Logan was very excited because one of the dances was performed to the theme music of our favorite cartoon, Anpanman. The sight of little three and four year old students dancing their little hearts out is one that I will treasure forever. We had a great time and enjoyed our time at the kindergarten sports festival.
Sports festivals are something that are very unique to Japan. I was asked many times if there there are such festivals in America, and each time I would just have to answer, "no." While America does have a field day it is different from what I witnessed here in Omihachiman. A truly unique and truly fun event.