Finally the big event came…and went. It was absolutely awesome though and in my opinion totally worth the wait and endless practices. Words fail me to describe what a fun day it was. I wish I could post some of the many awesome pictures and videos I was able to get of the event, but unfortunately my employment depends on me not doing that. Sports Day here, well, the closest comparison I have is Field Day in elementary school in America, but on steroids. It’s a huge event, held on a Saturday and the whole school community is involved. The kids run relay races of varying length and are grouped into teams based on their class (here there are 4 first year classes, 4 second year classes and 5 third year classes.) They have competitions based on grade level and are divided by gender. Then there is the main event, in which all students participate in a dance (girls) or acrobatics/gymnastics (boys). They practice for weeks to prepare, with practice taking precedent over classes. Practices could last for hours or even the entire school day. Homeroom teachers cheer on their classes and even participate in a few events. There’s a tug of war between the students and PTA members (which I was invited to participate in to help the students out). The students also help run each activity, as the referees, score keepers and firing the starting cap gun. Everything is meticulously planned, down to the entrance and exit of every person on the field for every event (even the referees enter in a line, jogging onto the field at a very specific entry point). It is Japanese precision and unity at its finest (or as fine as it can be given the participants are still kids). It’s amazing to see what they are able to all come together to do.
After countless relay races, 200 junior high girls dancing in sync, 200 junior high boys doing some amazing gymnastics/acrobatics (including an 8 person tall human pyramid) and some quirky Japanese events, I left work today reenergized and excited to be here. Over the past week I’ve been battling with the beginnings of either homesickness or culture shock (or both), which has been frustrating and discouraging. But after Sports Day, seeing the students (and teachers) excitement over the events and all their hard work pay off, running into parents of students who teach me taiko and further comradery with the other ALTs in town, I’m beginning to feel a little more like a part of this place and am reminded of just how great it is to be living my dream of living in Japan. People really come together over a little competition!
After the Sports Day events I got to attend my first enkai- a Japanese staff party full of good food, drinks and celebration of the day’s events. I was definitely nervous about going, having felt so frustrated with my lack of Japanese in the office and not feeling a real connection with most of the staff there (on top of the usual “what do I wear?!” and typical social anxiety of being around a new group of people). I wasn’t sure if this would be a great way to connect or more of the same disconnection I’ve felt in the weeks prior. Fortunately my fears were abated and I had an amazing time. I was fortunate to sit at a table with some strong English speakers, which of course helped a lot. The food was amazing (yakiniku) and the beers didn’t hurt the social aspect. A couple beers in I was asked to give a speech, much to my surprise, as this was also a welcome event for me too, or so I was told. I was given permission to speak solely in English and as fast as I wanted to! I was asked for my impression of sports day and the school, so I did my best to express myself, miming my way through just for good measure. Only about 10% of the staff understood even half of what I said I’d guess, but I received some laughs and applause all the same. (I will say that as the drinks flowed I learned far more of the staff have greater English ability than I had originally thought!) There were further moments of silliness, enjoyment and inclusion I felt, but in respect of Japanese privacy, “what happens at the enkai…”
All in all it was one of the best days I’ve had here in Japan, and probably the best day I’ve had with my coworkers so far. It was the boost in spirit I needed, and I just hope to hold onto the warm fuzzies as long as I can.
America needs to get on this whole sports day and enkai thing. It’s a great tradition!