Culture · Elementary School Education · Japanese Language · Japanese Pop Culture · Living in Japan · Pictures · Teaching

Elementary School Sports Day Take 1

students pledging on behalf of the student body to the principal that they will put their full effort into Sports Day

So, yesterday was one of my elementary school’s Sports Days. I have written about these on several occasions now, but they never get old and I never get tired of taking pictures of my students. My wanting to attend once again threw the school board for a loop because of the whole thing of ALTs being only part-time workers and we are supposed to go to X school only Y many days a week and all this other hub ub. As a result, one of my elementary school days was switched with a Jr. high school day, so I had three days of Jr. high last week. While this was not exactly good news to me, it also means that I get Monday off as a sort of substitute holiday for working on the weekend. Yay!

the red team cheering on their teammates

Just to get everyone caught up with what Sports Day in Japan entails, here is a little blurb from Wikipedia:

Sports days are often a week-long event at Japanese schools. Called undōkai (運動会) in Japanese, preparation for the event typically begins on a Monday and continues until Saturday, with the undōkai being held on the Sunday. During the week preceding the sports day, students have no regular classes, but practice their events throughout each day, culminating in a full dress-rehearsal the day before the event, which often includes performances by the school band and presentations by various school clubs as well as individual and group competitive events. These practices, and the sports days themselves, normally take place on the schools’ fields, which provide little relief from the heat and sun.

This particular elementary school had been having morning practices for several weeks and almost every P.E. class was practicing something for the Sports Day and, this past week, the entire school was buzzing about the day finally arriving. I asked my 6th graders yesterday morning how they were feeling, seeing as this was their final Sports Day as elementary school kids. As is to be expected, it hadn’t really hit them yet that it was their last one – by the end of the day it had sunken in, however. Last year, I foolish chose to spend the morning at the elementary school and the afternoon at the Jr. high school since both Sports Days fell on the same day. This year, I was fortunate enough that one this particular school had it’s Sports Day, so I got to stay the entire day.

I love how the kid second from the right is running (* ̄ω ̄)v

The day started out with me arriving at my ALT defined time of 8:15, where I was just in time to help finish up some minor setting up and get some envelopes put together with various goods for the special guests (people from the Board of Education, PTA members, and former teaching staff). Soon, it was time for the students to start their march in. I felt even more proud of my students this year as I watched the 6th graders take on leadership positions. I think this has to do with the fact that I have now taught them for a full year and have gotten to know them all a lot more. Last year, I knew the 6th graders for only a few months before the Sports Day took place, so I was still very much
an unfamiliar face to the school. I definitely felt much more in my element this year.

marching in carrying the school flag is a very important position (●´3`)ノ

After everyone finished marching in and various speeches were given, it was time for everyone to do some stretching. I accidentally found myself between the school nurse and vice principal, so I was also included in the stretches. Note, that the students had been practicing how to do these stretches for a month and the teachers have been doing them for years. It was my first time joining in on the routine, so I definitely looked pretty silly during a few parts. The routine followed a set of exercises from a morning TV spot called ラジオ体操 (Radio Gymnastics) and it looks something like this:

After stretching, it was time to get the day’s events underway. Last year, I helped judge who came in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th during the various races, but this year I was asked to take pictures and help with cheering for both teams – aka, be involved with the kids because the kids were too excited to see me. The races went smoothly without any trouble, minus one little boy losing his shoe mid-race, and before long it was time to move on to one of the cuter things of the day: the 1st grade dance routine.

this little boy kept looking at this little girl the entire dance routine

Now, these kids have only been in elementary school for a little over a month compared to the half a year it usually is – Sports Day at this school is usually in September – so their idea of unison has not really been formed yet. For the first…oh…10 seconds or the routine the kids were doing the motions all together, but once second 11 rolled around, they were all over the place. Still, I think it just added to their adorable selves.

and their off レ(゚∀゚;)ヘ=З=З=З

Next was a 2nd grade event where each class had made a float and decorated – very reminiscent of Kawagoe Matsuri – and had to run with them around a cone and back. They then passed the float off to the next group until everyone in the class had run with it. It is really cute to watch and, amazingly, no one dropped it although they did manage to knock over their cone almost every time.

one of the 3rd grade girls dancing the 『Hanagasa Odori』

Next, the 3rd graders took the stage to preform the 花笠踊り (Hanagasa Odori) which means “flowered hat dance.” The dance is characteristic of Yamagata in Japan with its roots being traced back to the construction of Lake Tokura, an irrigation reservoir. A main characteristic of the dance is the emulation of the workers’ movements as they try to alleviate their fatigue by fanning themselves with hats. While my students performed a simply version of the dance, you can see a more elaborate one here:

After the 3rd graders were done being cute, it was time for the 4th grader’s tug-of-war contest.

the technique of leaning back while looking up actually does work!

As seems to happen a lot, there were three rounds of tug-of-war. A few kids lost their footing and ended up hanging instead of pulling. It was really cute.

and they seemed like such gentle girls in class!

Next was a game where I am always holding my breath and hoping that someone does not get dropped. The game is called 騎馬戦 (kibasen) is a traditional schoolyard game of piggyback fighting.Kibasen (Cavalry Battle) however is so popular in Japan that it even forms part of school sports day. Kibasen is for teams of four players. Three people stand in a triangular formation, facing the same way, and hold hands. This enables the fourth member to perch on the back of the front player with his feet supported by the others hands. All riders wear a headband with two antlers. Now battle commences. The aim is for each group to charge towards the other and for the rider to grab and remove an opponent rider’s antlers thus eliminating that team from the game. I have also seen this played where kids wear hats instead, but that almost always ends badly. Antlers seem like a safer solution. Note, this is the event I mentioned yesterday where the boy with a broken foot participated it. He was the one being carried around.

I can never see this game being approved at my elementary school in America

After the 6th graders were finished literally tearing antlers from each other’s heads, the 5th graders finished off the morning with a mini dance routine from the Japanese film Waterboys. We then broke for lunch and some downtime before the afternoon activities started up.


The first event of the afternoon was a cheering contest between the two teams. Kids had been practicing this everyday for the past two weeks, and I am not really sure how the teachers decide which team’s cheer is better than the other, but the kids definitely used their loudest voices for this.

too cute

After, the 2nd graders did an adorable dance to Arashi’s Happiness, which was beyond adorable. Each child was given a colored towel to wave around as they danced and, after showing my pictures to the teachers after, were waving them higher and faster than they had in practice.

these kids are practically flying!

Next was another game that would probably never make it in the States: 棒リレー or “pole relay.” In this event, each team is given a long pole that kids run with around a cone and then back to their team. They then have to lay the pole on the ground and have their teammates jump over it – of course, there are more than a few tumbles during this.

玉入れ ( ・0・)ノ° ゜.Y。°。ヽ(・・ )

Next is one of the cuter and more enjoyable games (I like playing it!) called 玉入れ tamaire or “ball throwing.” It is usually done by first graders, and there is almost always a parent team included. Every Sports Day I have attended, the kids do an adorable dance along with playing the game that you can watch here. It is from a different elementary’s school’s Sports Day, but the dance is pretty much the same.

4th graders performing Soran Bushi

As the final dance performance of the day, the 4th graders performed a techno-sounded version of soran bushi. I have seen this performed various ways and, not to take anything away from this group of students, but this was the least physical of the performances I have seen. The basic movements (see above) were the same, but the other portions were not as active as others. Still, the did a great job!

I am not sure I had the guts to try this with a classmate

Next up was one of the most anticipated events of Sports Day: 組体操 kumitaiso. This translates to “group gymnastics” and it pretty amazing to watch. This starts out with each child doing some gymnastic position alone and then gradually two kids will perform together, then three, then five until there were about 20 to 25 kids forming pyramids and acrobatic positions. It is actually quite moving to see all these kids moving together in rhythm by a signal from a teacher’s whistle or to the beat of a drum. My camera unfortunately ran out of battery right before the kids were forming their final pyramids, so I did not manage to capture it on film. Just trust me when I say they were great.

three person pyramid

There was one last event of the day called お玉送り otama okuri or “Giant Ball Delivery” but, as I mentioned, my camera ran out of batteries and I could not get a picture of the actual event. I did manage to snap a picture during one of their practice sessions though.

whoever came up with this game is a genius

With that, Sports Day came to a close. Once again there were more speeches and some cool down stretches before the results were shown – victory to the red team. 6th graders on both teams were crying and that made a few of the teachers cry and for me to get a little teary-eyed. It really was a great day and I ended up taking 508 pictures…that’s more than when I go to Disneyland! Next weekend I have another Sports Day at my other elementary school, but I am not sure I will do another extensive post like this one. Maybe just some highlights. Hope you enjoyed reading about the day as much as I enjoyed being a part of it!


3 thoughts on “Elementary School Sports Day Take 1

    1. I know what you mean. Just from watching these Sports Days I think Japanese kids are a lot more healthy, or at least physically fit, than American kids on average.

      Just think, soon you will also get to post about these! Just make sure to let your school and Board of Education know you want to go. If your placement is like Kawagoe, it throws them for a loop that an ALT would actually want to participate ∑(O_O;)Shock!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s