Sports day is officially my favorite day of the Japanese school year. Anyone who knows me at all can confirm that I can turn a tea party into a competition. Therefore, an event including relay races, jump rope contests and choreographed dances will immediately capture and maintain my sincere interest.
The closest American comparison to sports day would be an insanely intense and competitive rendition of an elementary school’s field day. Now, we are all well aware that American field day’s are full of colorful parachutes and crying children. So, I suppose it’s not much of a comparison after all. Rather, in Japan, students practice months in advance for sports day. They spend weeks preparing elaborate dance routines and impressive acrobatic exercises to perform for their parents, teachers and peers.
Although it is highly organized and well prepared for, sports day also includes some relaxed and informal fun. At my senior high school, the students are divided into three teams: red, blue and yellow. During the first part of the day, the teams compete against each other by participating in events such as potato sack races, bamboo relays, tug-of-war games and chicken fights. Most of the events require a large amount teamwork and communication.
During the latter portion of the afternoon, ichi-nensei, ni-nensei and san-nensei, or first-year, second-year and third-year students all performed their choreographed routines. I had the opportunity to join the san-nensei students for a folk dance at the end of the day. Although I wouldn’t consider myself to be a shabby dancer, learning the routine in Japanese does make matters slightly more difficult!
As you can see, a traditional Japanese sports day is full of competition and laughter. I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with my students and fellow teachers in a more casual atmosphere. If I learned anything from sports day, I learned that relay races are basically the same no matter geographic location and a little cheerful competition can instantaneously bring people together.