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December 2003

Dancing and Bread Racing on Sports Day

Students playing tamaire. (Nakanodai Elementary School)

In the fall, when cool sunny weather arrives in place of the heat and humidity of summer, Japan enters the season for undokai, or sports days. Sports days take place in schools all across Japan, from kindergarten to high school. Some universities, companies, and local communities also hold annual sports days.

A kibasen encounter. (Nakanodai Elementary School)

Undokai aren't like other athletic meets. They involve many fun and unusual games. The pan-kui kyoso, for example, is a race with a twist. On the way around the course, competitors must grab pieces of bread hanging on string at face height without using their hands. The tamaire is a game played between two teams, red and white. Each team has lots of small beanbags in their color and a basket attached to the top of a tall pole. The teams compete to see who can throw more of their beanbags into their basket within a given time. The kibasen, or cavalry game, meanwhile, is played in teams of four: Three team members form a base, called the horse, and the fourth rides on top. The object of the game is for the rider to steal the headbands or caps of riders in other teams. And then there's the o-tama korogashi, a ball-rolling race using a giant ball as tall as a person.

In addition to fun games like these, dances and group gymnastics are a major part of many schools' sports days. Here we introduce two such schools.

group gymnastics
Students performing a dance routine. (Nakanodai Elementary School)

At Nakanodai Elementary School (site is Japanese only) in Tokyo's Katsushika Ward, the third and fourth grade students performed "Rock n' Soran Bushi" on their sports day. "Soran Bushi" is a traditional song that's been sung by generations of herring fishermen in the northern region of Hokkaido. The children danced to a rock version of the song. The dance was very popular with the kids: "It's a fun dance that makes you want to go wild and gets everyone excited," said third-grader Higo Koki. Fourth-grader Hirota Misako called it "a cool and powerful dance." On September 27, the spirited voices of the 110 students chanting "Yaren soran soran dokkoisho, dokkoisho" rang through the clear autumn sky.

mass performance
832 students perform "Chugakusei Sanka." (Secondary Division, Tamagawa Gakuen and University)

At Tamagawa Gakuen in the city of Machida, Tokyo, a total of 4,500 students from kindergarten to university gathered for a grand sports day on October 14. Many different events were held, and one of them was a mass performance titled "Chugakusei Sanka (Paean to Middle School Students)" by all 832 students in the middle school.

The 362 boys in the middle school divided up into groups and built several "human pyramids" on the field. To make a six-tiered pyramid without falling down, 21 students have to be perfectly coordinated with one another. Morohoshi Tomoki, who is in the seventh grade, said, "We all concentrated together by shouting to each other, 'Konjo!'" (Konjo means will power.) After the pyramids were completed, all of them were broken down at once, and cheers rose up from the spectators. "After we broke the pyramids apart, I was so thrilled that I punched my fists in the air," recalled ninth-grader Matsuda Kento.

The 470 girls, meanwhile, created a magnificent five-tiered human tower. Wearing red and yellow T-shirts, the girls performed on circular frames stacked up in a tower shape. It was as if a gigantic flower had blossomed on the field. Ninth-grade student Mikurube Hiroe proudly said, "I could sense from behind me that we'd been successful, and I felt that ours was the best sports day in the world."

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