It’s finally starting to warm up here in Toyokoro, and with the warm weather comes a Japanese tradition: the School Sports Festival.
All elementary, junior high, and high schools will hold their annual sports festivals in late May or early June. The sports festivals are a way to celebrate the beginning of a new school year and for the students to bond with their classmates.
There is extensive preparation for these festivals, which usually begins about a month in advance. The festivals are typically held on a Saturday or Sunday, and I got to attend my first sports festival two weeks ago. It was really entertaining to watch, and I even got to participate in some of the events with my students.
The students are each a part of two different teams. They will be on a team with all of the students in their class, but they will also be on either the red team or the white team, which is a 50/50 split of all the students in the school. The festival is essentially a combination of Summerland Secondary’s ‘Battle of the Grades’ and ‘Battle of the Houses’. There are a variety of events throughout the festival and the events will alternate between a class event and a red/white event. This festival allows the students to learn to work together with their classmates but also with students in different grades.
Prior to the festival, there is a lot of time set aside during the school day for the students to practice and prepare for the festival. Each class is responsible for creating a ‘class banner’, which will be hung up in their classroom for the year, and then later hung on the walls in the school gym. The students also spend a lot of time outside practicing some of the events, specifically the class jump rope competition and the class three-legged race.
All of the students’ parents and siblings come to the festival on the weekend to watch the activities. At the junior high festival, there were around 150 people in attendance. What I found really interesting about the festival is that there was a lot of participation from the crowd.
Because the festival runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the students need to take a break from running around in the hot sun. While the students are resting and getting water, the parents, teachers, or elementary school children will compete in the same activity that the junior high students just did. It really makes the festival a whole family affair.
The events at the festival were not the typical track and field style events that we would have at a Sports Day in Canada.
One of my favourite games to watch was the ‘Tire Pull’. There were a variety of sizes of tires lined up along the centre line, and then each team was positioned about 40 metres away from the centre on either side. When the horn went, the teams would run towards the tires, pick them up, and try to bring them back to their start line. So there would be a bunch of kids all pulling on tires and trying to wrestle them out of their opponent’s hands. It was pretty hilarious.
Another one of my favourite events was similar to a three-legged race, but instead of the people being lined up side-by-side, they were lined up one behind the other.
Their legs were tied together on both sides, and they had to run in a synchronized fashion for 200 metres. There were two different heats, first the girls in their class groups and then the boys. The girls were really good at the event and finished very fast. The boys however were a different story; only one of the teams managed to cross the finish line without falling, while the other two teams could barely run a few steps without all falling over.
Overall, my first Japanese Sports Festival was a lot of fun! I will get to go to both of the Toyokoro Elementary school festivals next week, which will most likely be a lot less intense and competitive but definitely a lot cuter.
Allyssa Hooper is in Summerland’s sister city of Toyokoro, Japan.