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Sakura & Ichiro

October: Sports Day

Hashimoto Miki

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Crisp autumn weather makes this a great time to get out and be physically active, and that's why Japanese schools choose this season to hold their undokai, or sports days. Schools from kindergartens to middle schools have sports days, as do some companies and local communities. These athletic meets usually take place on or around the second Monday in October, which is a public holiday called Sports Day.

At school athletic meets, students are divided into teams wearing color-coded hats or hachimaki, a piece of cloth wrapped around the forehead. Typical team colors are red and white. These teams compete for points in various events, and students also have fun cheering on their team, with each team's cheerleading group banging taiko drums to show their support.

Typical events include basic footraces, relay races, and tug-of-war. Other popular - and more unusual - events include kibasen ("cavalry competitions"), in which three students act as a "horse" to hoist up another team member, who then tries to take the hat off the "horse rider" of the opposing team. Tamaire, meanwhile, is a game similar to basketball in which students try to throw as many small balls as possible into a basket within a certain time. Group aerobics and dance performances set to music are also very common at school athletic meets.

In addition to student competitions, there are also events for family members to participate in, meaning sports day can be enjoyed by parents, brothers and sisters, and local people too.