Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sports Festival 1 & Annular Solar Eclipse

This past week has been craaaaazyyyy!

On Saturday (May 19), I had my first ever 運動会 (undoukai/sports meet).

These are pretty common in Japan, but for a foreigner like me, watching the practices was both fascinating and exciting.

To give a bit of background, undoukai were originally festivals for children. This was mostly due to the fact that around this time of the year, people were typically planting or harvesting, so there weren't that many ways for kids to enjoy themselves.

To counter this, undoukai were started to give the kids something to look forward to. The event itself involves dances and traditional displays of great teamwork, spirit as well as the traditional aspect of just having fun.

Grades are usually split into teams, and most schools will have a red and white team. 彦郷小学校 (Hikosato Elementary) is a particularly large school, so in addition to the traditional red and white, there was also a blue team.

The games themselves were also really fun to watch, probably because even the kids who told me they thought the whole affair was a pain in the butt got very into the competitions.

A lot of the events were typical relays and I also saw a tug-of-war for the first time ever (my previous experiences watching it was on TV, of all places). Most of the morning portion involved relays, which were incredibly adorable when the 1st and 2nd graders were sprinting as fast as they possibly could.

More interesting sports were rolling a giant ball across the field, around a cone and back to the team. The bamboo poles in the picture were also used as another variant of tug of war.

In an even more interesting game, 4 kids had to hold the pole and sprint across the field and back. Before passing it off to the next group of 4, the kids holding the poles had to run through the group as everyone else in the team jumped over the pole.

Another favorite game was "London Bridge." Basically, the lightest person started out by standing on top of a stand. Everyone in the same team would then line up side by side on their hands and knees. When the start gun went off, the student standing would run across their team mate's backs.

The challenge of this was the fact that they had to cross the field, so basically the kids on their hands and knees had to get up as soon as their teammate (literally) ran over them and then run to the end of the line and wait for the person to run over them again before repeating the whole process.

There were quite a few times when the person running slipped off the line, but at the same time, watching this race was so fascinating since some of the running kids had fairly good balance, and watching the students that were the "stepping stones" fall into place so smoothly was very impressive.

Going to my first undoukai also made me wish that we had something similar in the US. Some of the performances put on by the students were adorable and, at times, simply awe inspiring. Watching such a large group of kids, most of who were under 10 years old, coordinate so well and move together made me realize that even as a teacher, I have a lot to learn from the kids too.

To make this incredibly fun and exciting day even better, I was also rewarded with a bento as a thank you.

Another huge event was the annular lunar eclipse that took place on May 21st (Japan time).

Many of my coworkers were preparing for it by buying special eclipse sunglasses. I biked to school about half an hour earlier than usual that day, and I saw my school's principal, vice principal and several other teachers standing out in the field with sunglasses. I had also brought my larger lens, so I was running all over the place trying to get the shot to remember this special half hour forever.

All in all, a fairly crazy in a good way week. This weekend will also be very busy as all my other schools have their undoukai on the same day. I think at some point, I'm just going to need to carry around a coffee IV drip and figure out how to self administer...

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