Sports day is a once a year event that happens at primary schools throughout Japan. The students all get together, cheered on by parents, to compete in, well, sports. We went to check out Yusuke’s sports day today, and had a really good time. First of all, it was the most organized school event I have ever been to. Now, I love my little old Pacific Union Elementary, but from what I can remember that place has nothing on the school we visited, particularly in terms of a well-run event. Sports day commenced with a “parade of classes” around the track. Personal flags for each student (made by moms) waved in the air. The students orderly lined up for the opening speeches and then divided into four pre-set teams. Each team had students from every grade, making them more or less even. The events started with a mundane type of oversized ball relay, but then the foot races started, and that’s where I was thoroughly impressed. Race heats were done by grade. For each grade there were maybe about 50-70 runners, running 5 at time. They all lined up behind the starting line. The race went for halfway around the track. The first set of runners took their mark, a shotgun was fired, and the kids started to run. Some were better than others, but they all gave it their best shot. Upon reaching the finish line each runner was met by an assistant (another student) who would escort them to a place in the appropriate line for their place (1st, 2nd 3rd, etc). As this happened the shotgun would go off again and the next set of runners would start racing. In this way what seemed like a painfully big number of racers smoothly completed their races with seemingly little effort.
From a spectator standpoint this was more interesting to watch because there was always something happening on the field. In between races there were little dance performances, one by each grade, and a few other relay games. One of my favorites involved a broom stick. The kids lined up in rows of four. The row in the back was marked with tags. The row in the front held a broomstick. At the starting signal, the first row ran out to the first cone, which they had to circle before running ahead to the next cone, which they also had to circle before running back to their team. As the broom-holders would circle the stick the kid at the end would practically fly off due to the centrifugal force. (Note to player: put fast kid at end of stick to make a winning team.) This was fun to watch. Running back towards their teammates, the broom-holders dragged the stick under their teammates as they jumped up to avoid tripping over the stick. The stick was then passed over everyone’s heads back to the front of the line and the process was repeated until the last row had gone. By far the most popular event we saw was a multi-grade relay run which had the whole crowd cheering loudly. But my personal favorite was still the stick game.