In elementary schools and junior high schools in Japan, Sports Festival or Undokai in Japanese, is usually held on Saturday or Sunday in spring (May-June) or autumn (September-October). Students and teachers do a lot of preparation for this school-based community-wide event. They spent several weeks practicing to make this event a successful one.
Not only the students and teachers do their best to make the sports festival successful but also the parents. A day or two before the event, parents, especially the fathers, help set up tents on the school grounds.Tents are set up according to the areas of the community. People in the same area do work together to set up and break up their tents. On the day of the event, mothers do their best to prepare packed lunch or obento. These packed lunches are nicely made. These show how creative mothers are in preparing food.
Students are divided into teams. Colors are used to distinguish each team. Usually, it’s the color red, blue, green and yellow. Each team consists of all the grades at the school. So, if there are four sections per grade level, each section will belong to a particular color. For smaller schools in the countryside, there are only two teams and students are divided accordingly. Some parents and other people in the community can join the team.
It is during the “undokai” that families and neighbours can gather together and witness their kids performing and competing in several varied activities and fun games. There are individual and team events. For team events, there is the cheering contest, which the students had practiced for weeks. Smaller kids like the first graders do the tumor or ball toss game, in which balls are thrown into a basket on a high pole. There is also the “oodama hakobi” or the rolling of a giant ball. These are very fun and exciting game. Of course, there is also the all-time favorite, the tug of war. For individual events, there is the relay race where every student participates. Other racing games include a series of sack race, high jump, and running with a racket and a tennis ball placed on it. One of the most looked forward events is the “Kumitaisou”. It is a coordinated group gymnastics with teams who form shapes as pyramids and other astonishing constructions. The older kids usually participate in this game.
During the event, the word “ganbare” pronounced as “gambare” is all over the air. Family members, classmates, teachers and also visitors shout this word many times to cheer the performers. “Ganbare” is the imperative form of “ganbaru”, which means, in this case, to do one’s best and never give up. “Gambareeeeee! Gambareeeeee!”
In “undokai”, there is a spirit of equality, where all students, even the handicapped can join and are given the chance to show and test their skills. I admire this system because, in some countries, only the best in the class can join an event and compete with other representatives from other class. Winners will compete against winners and only the best will be recognized. Not in Japan. Not a single student is being left out.
Hard work, sweat, togetherness, equality, fun and memories. These are the words that describe the sports festival in Japan. It is a big part of each and every Japanese student’s life.