Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sports Day

My school recently celebrated its annual Sports Day event, featuring plenty of dangerous little stunts like this. Every September, high schools around Japan plan a track and field day on a Saturday so parents can come watch their young'uns perform multiple feats with the potential to crack a skull or two. Picture young boys doing five-story pyramids. Our Sports Day fell on a long holiday weekend when school would be closed Monday. So school also closed Tuesday to make up for everyone coming out to the all-day event on Saturday.

One thing you might notice about the picture above is that the kids are running this race on a sand/gravel lot. This is in fact the playing field used for all sports in my school, whether it's baseball, soccer, tennis, basketball, you name it. Kids at all the schools around here play on gravel lots like this. I couldn't believe my eyes the first time I saw it. Could you imagine American kids playing on gravel? Parents would have an aneurism! Well, I've discovered that the Japanese parents are a lot less wuss-ified than American parents. Everyone accepts that their little darlings will get a few skinned knees, and that's just the way it is.

I'm not sure why they play on gravel, but I imagine it's a combination of factors involving the expense of maintaining grass fields and the sheer difficulty of keeping grass alive in the summer heat. A lack of land means the practice field and official playing field are one in the same, and with all the kids practicing in the same area everyday (sometimes twice a day) any grass that managed to sprout would just get trampled to death.

But back to Sports Day. It is a HUGE deal here. The kids started practicing three months ahead of time. It features some of the typical track and field type activities you're used to seeing in the states — tug o' war, three-legged races, baton races — but it gets a lot more interesting than that. Hundreds of girls performed a complex flag performance that reminded me of the kind of thing you'd see at an Ohio State University half time show. At one point, they all donned yukatas (a traditional Japanese summer garment, sort of like a casual kimono) and did a dance performance in those, too.

Unfortunately, I, with my wondrous techno-wizard skills, no longer have the recordings of this or of the most dangerous gymnastic stunts the kids performed. After sprinting back to the school and up four flights of stairs to capture overall shots of these impressive activities from up high, I was pretty bummed when I later discovered I'd taped over them.

One of the videos I really wanted to show you was a stunt that involved two rows of a dozen or so boys each. They stood facing each other in parallel lines and joined hands. Then another boy laid down the middle of their arms and joined hands with someone in the middle. The boys on the end then launched the boy's feet up so that he swung 180 degrees like a giant clock hand. This was performed multiple times with everyone yelling "OOOOH!!" each time he was launched swinging through the air.

Then there was a competition during which, for a while, I was convinced the boys were trying to punch each other in the face. It worked like this: two large teams of boys divided themselves up into groups of three.Two boys lifted up the third and held him, standing, at waist-level. All the boys being lifted wore hats and gloves. The object of the game is for all the little groups to chase each other around and try to grab the hat off an opponent's head. The first team to score all the other team's hats won. Parents all went ape over this!

I also enjoyed this contest with huge wooden flag poles. Two teams of boys divided in half. While one half held up the pole, the other half rushed the other team and tried to capture the flag on top. The result is a bunch of boys clawing and fighting to hold up the pole while the other half strains to rip it down and/or climb it to reach the flag.

I just love how enthusiastic all the kids are about these events. All of them, including all the girls, are super competitive! And they don't worry about getting hurt. This is probably the most fun I've ever had at school.

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