The 9th of September was the Undokai (sports festival at Hagi Nishi, my base school. I arrived just before 9am, in time to grab my seat to watch the opening ceremony. During which we saluted the flag, encouraged each team, and various community members gave speeches. Thrilling stuff really. However, there were a couple of highlights – there was a torch runner, and he lit a fire, Olympics style, and the ‘robot running’. Basically the kids have to bend their elbows so there is a 90 degree angle there, and start running on the spot – right, left, right, left – before they run anywhere, even when they are running up to the lectern to encourage their team.
In the morning the kids had a variety of races. All the kids have to run – and they have continuous starts, as in before one race ends the next one has already started, on the same track. Then they did a cool obstacle race – they had to race under a net, over a beam, lucky dip for the number of hurdles they had to take, and then take that number of hurdles. The kids then did a vault, over a pommel horse, and then had to pick up a baseball bat, spin around 5 times, and then attempt to run to the finish line – more than a couple of kids ended up sprawled on the ground, or running in the wrong direction.
The next event was the statue race – actually, it probably wasn’t called that at all, but that is what I will call it. Basically the teachers sit on planks of wood that are suspended between bamboo poles, and the kids carry them around the track, often the teachers fall off, so the kids have to try and lift them back on, because the teachers are meant to be statues.
Then it was the PTA/parents/teachers races. I joined in the mukade (Japanese killer centipede) relay with the PTA mums. You have to tie your ankles to a rope and run together in a column. We came last. We also had a tug of war – it was meant to be men vs women but I managed to find 6 year 11 boys who were at the sports day just watching, to pretend to be women, and we managed to win!
Lunch break! The teachers had special bento, which were ok. So I sat in the staff room and ate that. Then it was back to the `real` events. The girls did a tyre scramble. So there is a whole bunch of tyres in the centre of the field, and the girls have to run and fight for them, against the other team, and drag the tyres back to their side. It was quite funny – they were getting pretty aggressive. Then the boys came out. I was really confused. Every 4th boy was shirtless and shoeless. It turned out they were about to play `horse and knight` - or as we might say, they were about to do piggyback fights. So in groups of 4 there were 3 boys carrying the fourth. And they had to charge at other groups and wrestle to the ground – that’s right, they were playing this on concrete. Seriously, don’t ask.
Then I was asked to judge the cheering competition – voice (loudness), teamwork, attitude and content. So I could easily do the first 3, but the content was difficult, given the cheers were in Japanese.
Then the boys did a `dance` actually more acrobatics, making pyramids and various other lifts, then the girls did theirs – with clacky things like maracas, but not. Finally there was one last relay and then they were ready to announce the winner. Shuji was in charge of organizing the scoring all day, so he and his helpers rushed upstairs and hung the covered up scoreboards out a 2nd floor window. Slowly they revealed the red team to be the winner. I was surprised, as the blue team had been doing well all day.
Home time, for a shower and stuff, then to the Well Heart Pia – a hotel near the beach, for the enkai (party). There was lots of food – well lots of plates with some food on them. Also, a fair amount of beer and coke too. But no one got really hammered, well not until the 2nd party. That was over at the UFO centre (in the arcade). The Higashi teachers were having their 2nd party there too. I did English karaoke with Shuji – Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Boys Town Gang and Bon Jovi`s `Something For the Pain` with Shuji and Nakamura sensei. Many of the teachers came and talked to me, most of them spoke a little English, and once they had had some drinks they were confident enough to give it a try! One lady kept saying `I can’t speak English` and I just couldn’t help but laugh. I also love the way they all apologise for not being able to speak English.