Unfortunately for me, we had surprise Sports Day practice. I was probably the only one that was surprised; it was probably written on the front board for a week, and the students probably know by rote how these things go. But for me, surprise practice.
They told me this after I’d carefully consumed my entire lunch, whole milk and all, and wanted above all things a nap.
So it began. That first day was a struggle to stay awake as I hid beneath the single tent from the rays of the afternoon sun.
They were practicing the march in class formation, although I didn’t know it then. This is exactly as hot and dusty as it looks.Every afternoon from this day (9/3) forward was occupied by Sports Day practice. And then, from about the 7th on, these were all-day affairs. I quickly learned to equip myself with a hat and sunscreen and even “sportswear” to enable my own personal standing around in the dusty hot sunshine and thus increase my badass points in the eyes of all the rest of the staff and students. If I didn’t suffer with them, what kind of part-of-the-school-family could I ever hope to be?
So I did, and as practice day followed practice day, I began to bear witness to a bunch of games and traditions that blew my mind. It turned out my struggle to stay awake the first day was not going to be unique, but a recurrent after-lunch problem, even when I was standing up. So I got moving and tried to follow along with what they were doing. I learned a little bit of the folk dance. And when they started playing “mass games” (?) I became an avid photographer of what I hope some returning RAs will bring to GHP.
The girls all did a game which I came to call “tug of war without a rope.” It’s actually kind of a strategy game. It starts with these wooden posts (red and blue ends for red and blue teams) all lined up on the ground. At the starting gun, the girls run to tug-of-war style get them back to their side of the field. But they aren’t assigned any particular post, so they just go for whatever they want. And can switch at any time. So, once they’ve wrested one across the line (or lost), they can run back and help their teammates with whatever is still in contention.
I stared, amazed, at their field day games. The boys have their own game after this one. I called it “Human Pyramid Hat Chicken Fights Without a Pool.”
They form up into these mini and mobile pyramids, the top kid wearing a red or white hat. The first part of the game, they go free-for-all and just try to tear the hats off their foes. Then there is a series of organized matches. I think you win if your opponent either loses his hat, falls off the pyramid, or is pushed out of the ring. It a way I guess it’s like sumo. The free-for-all struck me, in general, as being pretty awesome hilarious.
At most schools, apparently, the girls do the folk dance while the boys do some kind of pyramid. But at my school it’s traditional for them to all do the dance together. Minami gender equality win?On the 10th, the morning was a lot cooler, thank goodness, thank goodness, amen.
During the mid-morning break, the boys wet the field. I assumed it was to keep down the dust, but they said it was hot. I guess it is hot, if you’re running around and doing the crazy games they were playing.
Speaking of which… I got to see more sweet spectacle Friday, which was kind of a dress rehearsal. More tents appeared, and kids started wearing their team colors. But they did a run-through of all the games.
There was… MASS JUMP ROPE!
Neighborhood relay races!
The "Jump! Duck!” relay… in this one, the kids ran across the field, made this big bamboo pole move like a clock hand around a cone, then a second cone, then everyone in line had to first jump over it as two runners brought it through the line underneath, and then everyone had to duck under it as they ran it back to the front of the line for the next to run. Does that explanation make any sense at all??
Next, they trooped out for what I thought was going to be a three-legged race…
…but it turned out that their legs being tied together was just to make it more difficult for them to run and “become the bridge” for the one kid walking across everyone’s back. Yes really.
Then there was the “Catapult Bucket Relay”
And then my personal favorite, the “Mukade Relay.” That’s it’s real name, and it means centipede. Ten kids all get their legs tied together like so:
Then, they race. Relay style. The concept is simple, but I’m sad I didn’t have my camera battery charged on the first day they started practicing it. By Friday, they had the timing down so that there were a hell of a lot fewer ten-kid-pileups. So you’ll have to use your imagination when I tell you it was absolutely hilarious whenever they occurred. My very favorite time was when the person in the back somehow fell down (usually, being last was very lucky.. the front guy always got buried beneath the rest of the kids) and got dragged for a very short span, before the drag pulled the feet of everyone else out from under them and they all fell forward.
There is a reason these kids are wearing their long pants for just this event.
Sports Day was Sunday. I didn’t go on Saturday (I had work Tuesday at elementary… there is some kind of rule that I have to have two days off each week, and so they gave me Saturday in addition to Monday), but it rained all. day. long. on Saturday anyway. Which turned out to be a very good thing, because Sunday came and was a lot cooler and less dusty than any of the practice days I’d seen so far.
Announcement and music center.The band teacher had asked me to do the introduction of the marching segment, playing their medley of Pirates of the Caribbean music. During practice, I announced it regularly, but I had an idea after speaking into the mic, and asked the band teacher if I could do it in a “"pirate voice.” I demonstrated this voice and she said, “Yes please.” in Japanese. I couldn’t tell if she was serious. I polled some other teachers who all thought it would be really cool if I did that.
So, I did. Yarr. And laughed because on Sports Day, there were a bunch of parents and stuff gathered, and I wonder what they thought. “Where the HELL is that new JET from?!”
I was terrified that they would put me into one of the races, maybe just to even up numbers or something, and that I would be beaten soundly by twelve-year-old girls, but they thankfully did not torment me in this way.
They had other, more creative plans.
The “Cone-Face Soccer Ramune-Chug Relay” was for adults only, and required those involved to dribble a soccer ball down the field while looking through a cone, chug a ramune (I think it was ramune. It was some kind of drink that has a little ball inside.. to open the drink, you pop the ball into the bottle; then the little ball keeps trying to settle back in and block the opening, if you happen to have it upturned and chugging. Maybe it was a child spill-proofing?), and soccer it back to the next person in line.
The guy in the red shirt with the blue banner is one of my JTEs, whose name sounds to me like “Awesome” and of whom I am a little scared. Everything he does is epic.
Then, the “Jump! Duck!” relay turned out to be something that the kids’ parents did with them, as well as the catapult bucket relay. There was a tug-of war for just the adults. My main JTE’s class actually won the centipede relay, too! I took some video footage of a few events, but I think this is enough for now.
We even had the field cleared in record time. I only missed my bus by five minutes, which means I only had fifty-five minutes to wait for the next one. Nah, Sports Day was pretty fun. And someone even drove me home after only thirty-five.