Home > Japan, Pictures, School > an exercise festival, and a party

an exercise festival, and a party

On Sunday I attended the 運動会(うんどうかい – exercise meeting/festival) of the school that is quickly becoming my favorite, 如水小. It is becoming my favorite for a number of reasons, which I will of course list here:

1. It’s a medium sized school.
This is important because there are enough teachers (24) to make things interesting, but not too many as to make things overwhelming.
2. I visit it fairly frequently.
Probably the biggest factor. Out of the four schools, I visit two of them more often than the others. 沖代小 is my most frequented school, but it’s so large that I feel kind of lost by the wayside. 如水小 is my second most frequented school. I go there enough that I get to know the teachers, and because it’s a smaller school I get to know the students a bit more as well.
3. I have been out drinking with the teachers.
Of all four of my schools, this is the only school I have gone to a drinking party with. One of my other schools invited me, but I had already committed to going to 如水小’s drinking party and I could not attend. These drinking parties really are how people at school bond. Because of these parties I feel much closer to them than I do the other school teachers.
4. I play softball with the principal, and have attended a volleyball event with the whole staff
The fact of the matter is, 如水小’s teachers have invited me out to stuff. Other school’s teachers have not.
5. I know the students a lot better
It’s odd. One would think that I would get to know the students at my biggest school better because I spend a lot more time there. However, due to its size I only teach one grade a day, meaning that each grade does not see me more than once every two weeks. Compare this to 如水小, where I see the 5th and 6th graders every week, without fail. I feel much closer to the students, and so I feel much closer to the school.

So now you know: yes, I do have a favorite school. I guess I’m not supposed to do that (kind of like choosing a favorite child? And yes, I’m sure everyone expected that cliché because it’s used to often but there’s a reason why it’s a cliché!) but it happens. You feel closer to some things than you do to others, and there’s not a darned thing you can do about it. So while three out of four of my schools had an 運動会 on the same day, I went to 如水小’s. Oh, I had also practiced for their school dance along with the kids, so that was another factor. This turned out to be very useful, as you will all find out soon enough.

And so, on a Sunday at 8:45 AM I arrived at school. Apparently the 運動会 in Japan is like the fireworks display in Boston. Everyone shows up like two hours in advance to choose the best place to sit. Everyone was already there when I showed up. The teachers had been at school since 6 in the morning preparing the field. I would find out later that they had gone to school on Saturday as well, because there had been torrential downpours on Friday and they had to dry off the field. A pretty typical week for a Japanese teacher I think. Work Monday-Friday, work Saturday, work Sunday. OK, I’m exaggerating of course, but they work hard!

Anyway, once I arrived I spent some time chatting with the groundskeeper about the weather and what-not. (Also about Japanese girls, but that’s such a common conversation it’s barely worth mentioning anymore.) After that I walked around and took a few pictures as the festivities commenced. The 運動会, much more than just a sports or exercise festival, includes the normal events like running and relay, but also dancing, various random games, rope tugging, and a number of synchronized activities such as making a huge flower, a wave, and pyramids out of people. I participated in a few of the events, mostly as a judge, but in one memorable moment I was dragged (quite literally, I was kind of embarrassed) out onto the field to dance the school dance with the rest of the kids! While I had practiced a bit with them, it wasn’t as if I was ready to dance it! I did my best, and the kids seemed to get a kick out of it, so that was fine. The festival began at 9 AM and ended around 2:30 PM. I didn’t leave school until about 3:30 thanks to all the cleanup. My presence was clearly appreciated though, because when I left all the teachers burst out in random and unrehearsed applause.

My principal (校長先生- kouchou sensei) addressing the students.

All of the students lined up listening to a few speeches. Nothing too long though.

Practicing their cheerleading chants

The blue team

Sweet sweet victory! I took a bunch of these pictures!

All the parents surrounding the grounds watching their kids proudly.

Getting ready for a relay race.

Taiko! That’s Miyagaki sensei leading his group of 1st and 2nd graders.

Banging away!

One of a few dances performed.

That gun was quite loud.

Even the kindergarteners got into the action! Here an impressive kid is spinning one of those hoops around his waist. What is not shown, however, is that this kid was doing it in the most chill way I’ve ever seen. He barely moved his hips, he acted like he owned the place out there.

Pyramid building

Wave making

This is actually kind of dangerous…

Too bad that person’s head is in the way

Get em in the baskets!!

The red team won

You won’t understand the writing but you can see the times. That’s their Sunday schedule. the last one in yellow is the drinking party.

As always, more pictures can be seen here

Later on that night there was to be a 飲み会 (のみかい- drinking party) to celebrate the successful conclusion of the 運動会 festivities. The teachers and the students had been rehearsing for this event for the past two months, so I think they were all quite happy to have it all over with, without any major incidents. I was invited along, and although I had school on Monday (unlike the rest of the teachers who were given Monday off as a reward for coming in on Sunday) I tagged along. We ate at a restaurant called “花満” (はなまん.) I had eaten there before, and it was quite tasty. The second time did not disappoint. There was から揚げ(Fried chicken), 海老天(えびてん- breaded shrimp), raw chicken (yes, but this was of the highest quality, so it was OK to eat. I am not sick yet) and lots of beer. It was at this 飲み会 that I experienced my first true Japanese 飲み会 procedure. The beer was brought out in big bottles, and everyone had tiny little glasses, probably three gulps worth. People around you then offer to fill the glass for you, and you return the favor. It is in this way, and this way only, that you get more to drink. Pouring for yourself is quite rude. The way to get someone to notice that your glass is empty is to pour them a drink. They then instinctively offer you a return, and you are once again “beered up.” The reason for having such small glasses is so that your glass is empty quicker, of course. This allows others to pour for you often, enhancing the friendliness of the party, making sure no one is left out, and ensuring that regardless of the tiny glasses, you are drunk within the hour. Theoretically the way to prevent this is to leave your glass full so that no one can pour you more. In practice though, people just offer anyway, and you are forced by social norms to take a big gulp so that you can accept more beer from the person offering. Of course you can refuse, and that’s fine, it’s not like you get kicked out of the party for it, but I don’t like refusing. I did hold back a bit, however, because I (unlike the rest of the teachers) had work on Monday. Everyone else was quite happy within the hour, though.

The way seats were chosen was by random lottery, so I sat next to some teachers whom I had not spoken to much in the past. This was very nice because I was able to get to know them some more. I also remembered one more name! Huzzah! About an hour into the party, the games began. No, not drinking games, just party games. The first game involved a balloon, a piece of tape, and toothpicks. The object was simple: stick as many toothpicks in your balloon as possible without it popping. The practice was not quite so simple: I got one in, but my second one opened up a hole slightly too large, and my balloon fizzled away. My team (the blue team) managed to get a grand total of zero toothpicks in their balloon. The yellow team was able to poke an obscene amount like 12. After this, we played a game involving two toy hammers, a bucket, and rock paper scissors. I know! I liked the sound of this game when I saw it, too! The object of the game was to play rock paper scissors (in Japanese called じゃん・けん・ぽん.) The loser then grabbed the bucket and attempted to protect him or herself, because the winner grabbed a hammer and tried to whack the loser over the head with it. If the loser was fast enough to cover the head, another rock paper scissors is played until someone gets a hammer to the head. Unfortunately, I went first and did not quite understand the rules of the game. I lost in the first round. It was indeed a sad day for the blue team, which lost every single one of its matches, both individually and as a group. One of the players got so excited (or drunk) that she broke one of the hammers while swinging it rather viciously towards the head of the losing player, who literally dove out of the way to avoid the hit.

After dinner the majority of the group decided to go to karaoke afterward. Before this happened, however, and while I was already outside, apparently a group pyramid was made. I am quite sad I missed it, but it sounded pretty fun. We also picked up one of the teachers and tossed him in the air a few times. I’m not entirely sure why this happened, or how, but all of a sudden there we were catching this guy. So, on to karaoke! 17 of us piled into a rather spaceous room and I managed to butcher a number of rather unfortunate English songs, while the rest of my teachers sang quite well. By this point everyone was feeling pretty good, and my vice principal continuously complemented me on my ability to speak English, which seemed a mystery to him. I didn’t get home until about 1, but it was a great time. I spent about $70 on the meal and karaoke, but it was well worth it. I don’t have any pictures from the drinking party because I don’t think that would be very appropriate. You will just have to imagine you are there with me!


  1. Peri
    October 7, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Really enjoying your descriptions of Japanese school life! What a riot.

  2. Winnie
    October 9, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    I hope someone caught you on camara dancing! i c your forfilling your mother’s dream of your being a dancer 😀 And these kids are soo cute! (pyrimid was awsome) keep up the post 😉

  3. Cat
    October 29, 2009 at 9:59 am

    “and my vice principal continuously complemented me on my ability to speak English, which seemed a mystery to him.”

    LOLZ!!! I live for those moments, like when you’re talking on skype w/your parents and your host family is like “eigo jouzu desu neee.” WHAT THE HELL PEOPLE, it’s like English doesn’t exist as a language, just an academic field. I loved being complimented for being able to speak my mother tongue. It made me feel so absurdly smart XD

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