My junior high school students had their Undokai today. Undokai in English is "Sports Day Festival". Every school in Japan does this every year around the beginning of September.
When I was in elementary school, we had an event that was somewhat similar to Undokai. We called it "field day." I'm sure most Americans had something like this when they were kids. It was a whole day of school dedicated to games outside. We had games like 3-legged race, potato sack race, tug-of-war, etc. Undokai is basically that except it's much more of a spectacle. It's field day except all the parents come out to watch, the students actually care whether or not they win, and they rehearse everything for it. Field day was also only something I had in elementary school. Undokai is done from kindergarten all the way into high school. The older you get, the more it becomes a big deal.
This is my second year to observe undokai. Last year, my first year in Japan, I got to watch my elementary students have their undokai. This year, I got to watch my junior high school students.
If you ever decide to work in the JET programme, your work will start with your schools preparing for undokai. For the first few weeks of school, classes are shorter so the students can practice for undokai. All the teachers, even non-PE teachers, are allowed to dress down for school and wear sport's clothes. During practice, the students work on marching out onto the field, learning the different formations for when they're on the field, work on dances or cheers to perform during the festival, or they try out some of the crazy games.
The actual festival is an all day event, and it's held on the weekend. Like I said before, it's a really big deal. Everyone's mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa come out to watch and cheer on their kids. The students are separated into two teams. The students design a giant flag for their team. Check out my pictures from both teams. I think they both did an awesome job!
The day starts with the students marching out by their grade. The marching is, from a Western perspective, a little scary. They do a march that looks similar to something out of Nazi Germany. I know their mindset is much different though, so I don't judge. Still, as an American, it was strange for me at first.
After marching onto the field, they do the national anthem and raise the Japanese flag along with the school flag. They then sing the school song. After that, the principal comes out and announces that Undokai has started. Let the games begin!
Most of the games the students do are pretty hilarious. I'm not saying that in a judgmental way. I believe they're intentionally ridiculous. Like my comparison to field day, you have things like 3 legged races, which are always amusing. Then they have some crazy relay races. For example, my favorite one of the day: The students began the race by having to put on their pants. (They were wearing shorts, but they had to put on longer pants). After that, they had to run through a net. Then they had to walk across a balance beam. The craziest part was when they had to put a basket on their back and try to catch a ball they catapulted into the air. Can you understand what I mean now about the games being hilarious?
Other games included a massive jump rope game, tug-of-war, and pass the baton races. One relay race included a bit of a scavenger hunt. The students picked up cards that had things they had to find then bring to the finish line. They said things like: "find 3 soccer balls", or "find 4 friends", or "find the principal", etc. One of the cards had my name on it, so the student had to come and get me. Unfortunitely I couldn't run fast enough to help her win the race :(.
Besides the games, there were also some performances. All of the students did a traditional Japanese dance, which was really cool to watch. They also did the Japanese version of cheer leading. I'll need to find some video of this someday because it's really difficult for me to describe. They finished off the day by doing a folk dance where the boys and girls had to dance together. It was pretty adorable!
I have so many pictures and videos from the day, but I sadly can't share them with you. It's really frowned upon to post photos/videos of your students without their parent's permission. I'm going to respect my students' right to privacy. So I'm going to give you the few pictures I have that don't have any students in them. The first 2 pictures are of the giant flags my students made. The third picture is of the field they played on. It can give you somewhat of an idea of what it was like.