Spring is the season for sports festivals among the schools of Japan where each hosts an all-student event brimming with foot races, competition, and performances. Due to the small size of my town however, they make it more of a community day where the students of each school and the volunteer firemen come together to participate in the events. I didn’t really mind being forced into attendance though since it would just be a jovial day to spend walking around, chatting with parents, and interacting with students while in their most jovial of moods. On top of that, the weather conditions were perfect.
Myself and a number of students.
When I arrived in the morning, the festivities were already underway. The students began marching around the track, arranged by grade to music provide by the school band club. I recognized the song ‘Flying Get’, but not the other. They were under the scrutiny of a couple judges, who eventually determined that the third year middle schoolers were the best. Finally, the students lined up for ‘Kimigayo’, the national anthem. I am going to make it a point of learning this remarkably short anthem so that I can join in chorus during graduation and other such events. At first it seemed somewhat blasphemous and unpatriotic to sing one other than my own, but I realize that opinion would likely only be held by those without any claim to another home. Japan is every bit my home now and certainly a place worthy of raising my voice to. But I digress…
There were a handful of footraces and such throughout the day. My first event wasn’t acompetition, just a queue of people bobbing for sweets in bin of powered sugar, as if apples in water. This prize was the candy of course, and also the amusement everyone shared in white faces we came away with. I made merry with the different groups of children as they were staged for upcoming competitions or aided in cheering from their respective tents.
One of the other events that the middle school boys all across japan regularly participate in are group gymnastics. You can also appreciate the beauty of the day in this shot.
There was an hour break from lunch and a bento box from the school. I scarfed it down and got ready for my taiko performance. My drum group tends to make appearances at all of the local events and festivals such as this. I assume that the community has either grown bored of our limited repertoire or old enough to forget it. My contribution to the performance was a bit limited as I was deprived adequate time to prepare. In our usual pre-event practice session the day before, they asked me to play a song for the first time. After struggling through it twice while completely reliant on cues from the usual guy, they declared I was ready. About 10 seconds into the actual performance I realized that I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, and the complete lack of sheet music reduced me to striking at random or whenever I thought it might be appropriate. The first problem associated with this was that I was playing on the big drum with someone on the other side who knew what exactly she was doing. In addition to my ever evident failings in miming her, every time I chanced one of the wailing blows necessitated by the size of the drum, it was boomingly clear that I was completely oblivious to the rhythm. I allowed myself to stifle my crushing blows, and shrink to something quieter before finally shirking the task entirely. I then just sidled away and concealed myself in the backdrop of those behind me. The second song however went swimmingly, as I was blessed with more than a mere 12 hours to master it.
After the lunch break, the slew of events resumed, which meant I was back at it as well. One was the centipede race where a team of people walk together on 2x4s, but must coordinate their movements and step together. If people lose their balance, it creates a domino effect that would send the lead guy – me – to the ground. The final event of the day was the 4x600m race. I wanted to take part in the fun too, so I got one of the freshly hired young teachers to join me and attempt it as a pair. I started off like bullet and despite being on the outside lane was Bolting my feminine competition. After making my 100m hand-off,I had to get ready for my next 200m leg. I was certainly winded from going all out before, so running again so soon really did me in. I had not nearly the same gusto for this trip around the oval, and things got worse when one of the girls was all aloof and walked into my lane, sending us both crashing the the dirt. Back up and running, I was able to get it in the hands of my partner but I couldn’t very well bask in the glory of our last place finish. In that moment I attempted to expend energy at a rate far beyond what my body can manage. Whether blowing a fuse, going kaioken x 20, or whatever other metaphor you want to apply to this, I felt on the brink of death and was left asking random parents if they could spare something to drink. I would like to remind everyone how poorly suited my Clydesdale-esq frame is to land based competition.
One we finished that event and the cleanup phase, I could finally go home. It was a perfect day for such a community gathering though, and I did enjoy essentially being paid to play with kids all day.