It’s been a long time since I wrote something here. There are a few reasons for that, but the main one is that I’m now going through one of the busiest times of the Japanese school year! First it was Sports Day, then it was the speech contest, then it was the Culture Festival, and then the Recitation Contest was after that. Anyway, since it’s been a while and since I’ve now experienced both events, I’m going to dedicate this post to Sports Days, Culture Festivals, and where ALTs fit in to both of them.
If you’ve watched literally any anime with a school in it, you probably have a good idea of what Sports Days and Culture Festivals are. For those of you who don’t know, Sports Days are events hosted every year where the classes in a school break into teams (at my schools, there were four or five teams), and compete in different team sports and relay events. The students’ teams win points for every event they win, but they also compete in presentation. At both my bigger school and smaller school, each team had to make a banner for their team, a group cheer routine, and costumes to wear during said cheer routine. In the end, awards are given for most points in the sporting events as well as best banner, best costumes, and best cheer. My schools’ Culture Festivals, on the other hand, are all about the chorus contest. According to some of my teachers, in elementary and high school, chorus contests aren’t necessarily the highlight of the Culture Festival, but in middle schools, they often are. In the chorus contest, each individual class practices singing a song together. Someone from each class will play the piano and conduct their class’s song, too. Awards for this event go to the best class performance, the best conductor, and the best pianist. On top of the chorus contest, though, students get to host other events throughout the day, too.
On Sports Day:
My schools’ Sports Days were held in September. At each event, I was a judge for the teams’ banners, cheers, costumes, and marches. The thing that surprised me the most was how much time students put into their team presentations. They practice their cheer routines from mid summer, all the way up to the Sports Day. They work on the costumes and banners for at least that long, too. Third year students (the highest grade) have some of the most responsibility; they have to choreograph their team’s cheer routine themselves, and then teach it to the younger students.
The events on Sports Day might include things like tug-o-war and baton races. Those aren’t the most fun events to watch, though. The bulk of sports events at both of my schools were these relay races that made students do some seriously unreal stunts. To name a few:
-A race in which teams of two students had to run inside of giant bloomers.
-The Centipede Relay, where groups of about six students all tie their ankles together and have to run together around a track like that.
-A race where students basically turn themselves into a human treadmill so that one of their classmates can walk on their backs up and down a course.
-The Bamboo Relay, which is a pretty complicated obstacle course race that teams of three students have to run while they all hold onto this giant pole. (And at one point, the student in the middle has to hang onto the pole while their teammates carry them through part of the course.
Honestly, I was pretty jealous of my students. These relays looked like a lot of fun, but I could just picture parents back home suing someone for safety in a lot of these events.
I did get to participate in one event at my smaller school. After the students finished their rounds of tug-o-war, me, the principal, and vice principal got to play a tug-o-war match against about thirty preschoolers and a couple of their teachers. I went into this match ready to let the kids win, but the second the match started, it turned out these kids were really strong, so I gave it everything I had. We still lost and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The final event of Sports Day is the award ceremony. I can’t speak for other schools, but both my bigger and smaller schools have trophies for each award that get passed around between classes each year. Each trophy is covered in red and white ribbons. When a team wins the trophy, all of the team members’ names are stamped onto a new ribbon and added to the trophy. I love this idea, and when I first heard about it, I kept picturing how nostalgic it would be to come back to your old school years later and find your team’s ribbon.
Sports Day and the awards ceremony is all about the students. Afterwards, the teachers all get together and go out for an enaki, a group drinking and eating party. I could write a completely different post on enkai, so I’ll forego explaining it for now. At the two enkai I went to, the teachers played slideshows made up of pictures and videos from the day. The principals and vice principals gave speeches, and since I had just joined the team of teachers recently, I had to give a speech, too on what I thought about Sports Day. I told everyone that I loved watching the event and being a part of it, and that I wish we had something like this back home. Aside from being a fun event to experience with classmates and a great memory for parents to watch, I love the teamwork that goes into Sports Day. A few of my JTEs have joked to me about how little things like students cleaning the school every day and participating in events like Sports Day is a way to “train” them; train them to work well with others and have respect for people and places they interact with. The same sort of thing you might develop for working with a club or sports team for several years. Except instead of a group of like-minded people in a club or team, you need to work with everyone from your class. Back in my undergrad studies, I read so much about how important building a class community is. And I really love the idea of Sports Day because it’s a fun way to practice that.
On the Culture Festival:
Unlike Sports Day, where I helped out at both my bigger school and smaller school, I only got to see what the Culture Festival was like at my bigger school. That was just because of a time conflict.
Anyway, at the Culture Festival, my bigger school gave me no responsibilities. I’ve heard from other ALTs that sometimes, they’re asked to judge the chorus contest or announce different performers on stage. When I asked my JTEs if there was something I should help with, they just said, “No, please enjoy the festival.” So I watched the whole event with another one of the teachers.
The chorus contest took up the whole first half of the day. The whole school walked to a nearby theater and we used the stage there for the contest. From about 8am to 12 pm, classes just sang one after another.
After the contest was over, we went back to the school for lunch. Then we had about an hour to wander around and see different things set up inside the school. On each floor, galleries were set up with student artwork and posters they made about things like their future dream or what they got to do on the school trip that they took a little while back. The special needs classes were running a store, selling things that they had made over the past few months. They had made everything from face masks to lunch bags to coasters! There were a lot of parents walking around the festival. The main event at this point for the students, though, was the stamp rally. In a room on every floor, there was a station set up where one student would ask you a question and if you could answer it correctly, you get a stamp. A sheet full of stamps will win you a small prize.
After wandering around the school, everyone went to the gym to watch some more performances. Students from each year showed videos they had made. My favorite was a comedy one about getting ready for the Culture Festival. The brass band performed, as well as students participating in the speech and recitation contests, and a few groups of students who had put together dance routines. After all this, the winners of the chorus contest were finally announced. One of the students who I had been working with in the speech contest actually won a prize for Best Conducting! I was so happy for her.
All in all, the Culture Festival was a lot different than I thought it would be, but I’m glad I got to see it! It was a lot of fun to see more things the students had put together and organized themselves. Plus, they’d been practicing for the chorus contest since Sports Day ended, so it was great to see their hard work finally come to something.
And that’s my two cents on my first experience with Sports Day and the Culture Festival! I really don’t want to start neglecting this blog, so I’ll try to post a lot more often. So until, next time, I hope you enjoyed reading today!