This autumn we experienced our first undokai, (sports festival), at our sons’ school: Motomachi elementary. There were weeks of preparation before the event which was held in the school yard on a Saturday. Although our sons had been involved with school sports’ days in the UK, the undokai is serious stuff and far more impressive than sports’ day in England.
It is a whole-school event demonstrating the hard work of every teacher and child, and it is a real display of the pupils’ teamwork and individual efforts.
At the start of the undokai, the pupils march onto the yard to accompanying music from the loudspeakers. The three teams – yellow, red and blue are introduced.
There then follows the whole-year displays. Our boys had been practising hard at home and were very excited to be performing in front of everyone. Our youngest son, in ninensei, (grade 2), took part in a gymnastic routine that was choreographed by the grade 2 senseis. Each yeargroup performed a different routine and our eldest son, in gonensei, (grade 5) danced the Soran Bushi, a powerful traditional dance and song from Hokkaido that represents fishermen.
The grade 6 children performed a drum routine from Okinawa. It was all very impressive.
Across the school yard was hung bunting which the children has worked hard to make as wonderful as possible.
Unfortunately, the rain began to fall and so the day cancelled just before lunch and so we ate our obentos at home and the rest of the undokai was rescheduled for the following Tuesday morning.
Thankfully the sun shone that day and once again the score board was affixed to a high balcony and the games played on. At one end of the playground the teachers ran an efficient set of races for the first graders, then second graders with every child taking part in a 100m dash. There was a starting gun which didn’t faze most of the children, and even the first graders were taught how to start a race properly with races abandoned if a child took a false start.
The older children ran longer races, and after the races were finished there was a final session of co-operative games which settled the final scores.
The ninenseis had to battle it out in their teams with each team throwing beanbags into a tall beacon-shaped net. The team with the largest score won. Gonenseis took part in another traditional undokai pursuit of the Kibasen or chivalry battle, where kids ride horses (other team-mates) and try to take the cap off their opposing rider. It was great fun and very exciting to watch.
Oh my word, what a great experience it was. So professional and everyone was so dedicated.
We caused some upset by taking the boys out of school for two weeks in the lead-up to the Undokai – leaving them with only one week to prepare on their return. (I think routines were practiced for three weeks before we went away: a lot of effort.) Dan’s HR received a testy phonecall about the situation, which I felt awful about. Thankfully the wonderful HR lady fought our corner and reassured the school.
I was blown away by the production values. A PA system pumped out motivational music during the races and cheerleading gangs chivvied on the participants. So fab.
Very unlike the half-hearted tokenism that is an English sports day. I have high-hopes for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics if their Undokai is anything to go by!
On a personal note, a group of us English speaking Mums was able to muddle around and find each other which led to a nice coffee morning a week or two later.