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September 17, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

運動会!I had heard so much about it these past few weeks. Everyone talked about it. There were announcements in every single morning teacher meeting in every single one of my schools. So what was this oft-spoken of and never seen “exercise meeting”? Well, I got to experience the Japanese 運動会(undoukai) practice for myself today, so allow me to tell you what exactly happened.

I was supposed to teach the 6th graders at Okidai elementary school today, so I arrived wearing my Tuesday best (whatever that means.) It turns out that today for the first two periods the entire school, instead of taking classes, would be participating in exercise practice. I immediately thought back to the days in Holland when we would have those big sports days instead of having class. Well, this is slightly different. The kids spent the first 25 minutes or so lining up in their groups, and learning how to stand, how to sit, how to stand “at ease” and how to yell “YAAAA!” every time they sat down or stood up. Hmm. Following that, the school (there are about 600 students) split up into three groups and began learning chants. I did not understand a lot of them, but I managed to pick up a few. I’ll translate for you what they said:

One student, the “leader” would yell: “Are we going to do our best?!” and everyone would yell: “WE’LL DO OUR BEST!”
“Are we going to give up?!” “WE’LL NEVER GIVE UP”
“Fight to the last!” “FIGHT TO THE LAST!”
Then the last part I didn’t quite catch, but in response everyone pumped their fist into the air and went: “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

I got chills. If they ever recruited a child army of Japanese children, I would run away and hide in a tall tree. (Because they can’t reach up there, they’re tiny little Japanese kids.)

After this “exercise” exercise, the 5th and 6th graders went to the gym, and I followed them there. In the gym, they spent most of the time learning how to split up into exponentially larger groups. First twos, then threes, then fives, then sixes, then eights. Then, they dissolved these groups and went back into formation. Then they reformed these groups until everything was running with a kind of military precision not even seen in the green beret division of the US army. After this, they practiced how to make human pyramids, human merry go rounds, and (I am not kidding) how to go go dance in a line, you know, the one where you put one leg up and then the other in rapid succession. I’m going to assume this is all in an effort to promote team building and group work, though I’m not sure how go-go dancing fits into the picture.

This “運動会” is important for the school because all of the parents come out and watch, so the school wants to make a good impression. It was quite a change, though, from the general free wheeling attitude I see around school most days, where kids are running around, and allowed to do pretty much what they want within reason, as long as they are being respectful. Discipline in Japanese schools, after all, is done behind the scenes so as not to embarrass anyone. On this occasion though, that is not the case. Kids who misbehave or aren’t doing it right are told off right away, and the teacher involvement is pretty heavy.

It’s interesting how it almost seems like the Japanese school system takes sports and exercise more seriously than school.

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