Motomachi Undokai

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I wrote this article for a newsletter which is circulated around the offices where my husband works…….

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

The Guilt of November 11

British autumns from your childhood, eh? You’ve got the thrill of going back to school, (I enjoyed kit lists and new stationary and all that jazz); you’ve got harvest festivals, (some great primary school classics such as ‘Autumn leaves when the grass is jewelled’ and ‘Cauliflowers fluffy and cabbages green’); then there’s Halloween and Bonfire Night; and then church parade and Remembrance Day. All well and good.

This year we are in Yokohama and the school term starts in April, not September; the school’s focus was undokai (sports festival), not harvest festival; yes, there’s been Halloween celebrations but no trick or treating and it’s warm and sunny not cold and rainy, and as far as autumn landmarks go, that’s it now. No Bonfire Night, (obviously) and no Remembrance Day.

But, as I recalled, Japan was an ally in World War One so why isn’t there a similar event here? Well, the losses Japan sustained were a tiny fraction of those of the British and Commonwealth forces – I think less than one hundred were killed, mostly in the Mediterranean, and it is hardly mentioned in the Japanese history books. Conversely, British society was torn asunder by the loss of young men: men who never returned or if they did, were often affected by physical or mental wounds. It scarred the British psyche.

Of course, the second world war scarred the country again – and the civilian population sustained losses in the blitz and u boat campaigns. Children born after 1945 were often fascinated by the impact of the war on their families and country. Their children are my generation who now have children of our own.

Thankfully my knowledge of war is scant. I remember the first months of the first Iraq war whilst I was basking on a school bench in Kenilworth, one sunny September lunchtime. Then, the start of the second Iraq war coincided with me taking on a job at County archive. However, as a Guide, I would dutifully and patriotically take part in Remembrance Day Parade. Later, as part of a Scout marching band we would lead the march through small town in the New Forest.  I even attended one or two wreath laying events at university: for the first time attending in civvies. As a young adult I would happily buy a poppy. Pin it to a coat. Then lose that poppy, and go and buy another. Then more recently, I would buy a poppy or two but I would perhaps be wearing my Goretex jacket (as by this point I was living in rainy Cumbria, land of Goretex), or it might be a dry day and I might be wearing my new Rab feather jacket and not want to get a hole in it, and that act of buying a poppy becomes an imposition. I still buy the poppy but it languishes beside my bed. They are just bloody impractical for November weather in Cumbria.

Why am I obsessing about the wearing of a poppy? Tommy Robinson. I saw him on telly, a good week or two ago, stood outside a court in his smart suit and pristine poppy and it reminded me of all the news/media folk you see on the telly at this time of year, all with their pristine poppies which are OBVIOUSLY newly pinned by some runner whose job it is from mid-October onwards to have a ready supply of poppies (and pins) to hand. Because heaven forfend that you are seen without one. A nod to the mores but not necessarily sincere.

I do often think about the soldiers’ sacrifice, and griping about the impracticality of wearing a poppy for a week or so does seem so bloody petulant, but I’m fed up with the guilt. The guilt of feeling like you have to prove to people that you HAVE bought a poppy (usually several). The guilt that you haven’t had to see your generation sacrificed for some greater cause, and now the guilt that this sort of unhealthy and impractical relationship to the fallen can be commandeered by right wingers.

Having lived in a country that has had to redefine itself after 1945 I find it refreshing to know that national esteem doesn’t have to be linked to military victories. I’ve decided that the next time I am in the UK in October/ November I am going to make a donation to the Royal British Legion and then buy some temporary poppy tattoos online and stick them on my face. Yes, it’s unconventional, but that’s me.

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Above is a list of allied servicemen who gave their lives in the First World War. It’s in the Yokohama Foreign Cemetery. I’m plan to find out more about it. Watch this space.

Sunshine in October

 

Today’s Halloween and am I missing the overpriced school party, the cold and the rain? Am I missing the last minute sweet shopping for trick or treating or persuading the boys to dress up? No, not at all. The other morning it was slightly chillier and I did consider making a cup of tea (Yorkshire Gold with milk) but I didn’t get round to it and the urge passed.

We’re hosting a Bonfire Night party with some other Brits on Friday but otherwise, I am not missing British autumn at all.

The last few days have been so warm and sunny, I’ve loved walking around Yokohama, soaking up the sunshine.

On Monday night I went to a theatre to listen to a traditional storyteller tell some standup in English. It’s called rakugu I think. It was really good, and I was part of an audience that had been invited to go for the experience to be filmed by NHK World. I got a decorative handkerchief/towel and 1ooo yen as a thank you. I was in the third row along with a Black couple, a Filipina and an Indian guy. I think my Mediterranean looks affected my seating. On the front row were all the blonde women. (Yes, Japan is racist).

Dan’s working hard at the moment in a three week blast of HAZOP meetings. I’m getting by, but I am missing having lunch with him and his colleagues. The kids are ok at school – I don’t think there are any big events coming up for them, but we are needing to tell the school that we’ll be taking them out of school YET AGAIN as the term doesn’t end till December 26th. That’s right folks, without Dan’s intervention, they’d be at school on Christmas Day. (I’m all up for it as I hate Christmas).

 

 

 

Hiking – Kita Kamakura to Kamakura

Last Saturday we caught the train to Kita Kamakura to walk a wee hiking trail. This was my first time on this walk but the boys had done it before with Dan.

Along the way there are two or three temples and I think we visited two. Sadly, we gave the cat temple a miss.

In the first temple complex there were various shrines including these three statues of buddhas which depict the past, present and future.

There is also a cave which I stupidly bravely walked along without any light. I freaked out just as I reached the end of the tunnel.

There was another wee cave which housed a jolly buddha and so we all dutifully gave his belly a rub and rugged at his finger and earlobe.

There was a lovely traditional house there too.

As far as inspiration for relandscaping our garden, trips like this are great.

A little further along the walk we stopped at a second temple at the top of a ridge. It had a very different vibe.

Not far from here was an excellent terrace cafe that served delicious homemade croissants. We pigged out. We pigged out so badly I didn’t even take photos of the brilliant croissants. George had a yummy mango pudding though.

It was great to see the kinoko (fungi) again and various flowers.

Arriving back into Kamakura, we stopped at a small cafe and I had iced matcha tea and a cinnamon doughnut (homemade).

We then went to a bar that Dan likes and had a couple of pints of tasty and strong IPA. The food that the chef was prepping for tea looked wonderful but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to stretch out our visit to the bar for long enough. Another time.

Nashi picking

A couple of weeks ago George had his first Beavers session after the summer break. They met at Ishikawacho station in the morning and that was them till the afternoon.

He had a great time, and was really proud of his haul.

There’s a new Beaver leader, too, which G is excited about.

His leader sent us some photos and told us that G had been helping the shorter Beavers to pick their Asian Pears.

It’s a New Term and a New Boo-Boo

Yes, we’re talking another episode of ‘King Family Disappointing the School’.

Poor Dan hasn’t had time off work since coming to the UK in April to help us clear out of the rented place after the fire and bring us out to Japan. Not the most relaxing week or two of his life. The boys and I went back to England, fleetingly – for just over two weeks, in August so that we could get our eyes checked, visit the dentist and so that George could go to his Razzamatazz summer school. We also had a lovely few days on the south coast visiting Parkin family. Anyway, before the kids broke up from school, we wrote in their communications books that we’d be taking them out of school for two weeks. (We’ll be visiting a rice farm during harvest, then exploring Osaka and Kyoto and Okinawa). The teachers wrote replies saying that this was ok.

Fast forward to today and Dan writes another nudge note in the comms book reminding the teachers that we’ll be away.

Then, after lunch, there is an email from the lovely lady from HR to say that the school had telephoned her and that they were shocked and concerned about the boys missing the preparation for Sports Day. (Which is happening on the Saturday, a week after our return from holiday). Thankfully the  WONDERFUL HR lady knows us well and is married to an American, (and so can see the foibles of Japanese school culture), and blagged it for us saying it was part of our homeschool programme and that the boys would continue with their prep for sports day whilst we were away. Anyway, I felt awful again. I do hate to disappoint the school, and if they had raised concerns about the block of time before the school holidays we could have altered things, perhaps.

Well, I then went to the Daiso (100yen shop) and bought what was on the list AND some of the very-tasty-full-of-artificial-colours-and-sour-Octopus-jelly-sweets and came home and now feel a little bit better.

This is the Soran Bushi dance that Oliver has to practise and that he’ll be performing on Sports Day. He’s been practising at home off his own bat, which has been really lovely as dance isn’t normally his thing. But he’s enjoying this, which is great. (Another credit to Motomachi school for that).

Our Mini Scouting Adventure

About a month ago I decided the boys had settled in enough with life here and we could shake things up by finding them a Beaver colony and Cub pack for them to join. We figured it would help George make friends outside school which would be a good thing too as he has been struggling a bit socially with his classmates.

Well, we were contacted by our nearest group who meet down the road and are based at the Catholic Church. They meet on Sunday mornings and we arranged a meeting with the leaders to find out more. Next came a wee interview by the deputy chair of the group (who spoke good English) and we were told about all the events that the group puts on through the year and also about the upcoming Group camp to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. In two weeks’ time. So we came away and thought about it. O was skeptical, G was keen. We went and bought the uniform. So. Cool.

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And then the boys had one session and we had to make a decision on camp that day. Thankfully they had a great time and fears were allayed, so the boys were happy to go camping. And then both Dan and I were asked if we wanted to go along too. Hell yes. So last Friday, we met at the church at 6.30am to get on a coach and we returned last Monday afternoon.

Usually the sections all camp separately, so this was a rather unique opportunity to meet the whole group and for Oliver to see what the Scouts get up to. (He will move up when he is eleven). You might know that we too had some extreme heat in Japan recently, well thankfully, that dissipated on the Friday only to make way for a typhoon. The Cubs and Beavers (and parents) were staying in a building with aircon whilst the Scouts and Venture Scouts were under canvas. This was a deal maker, really, in our decision on whether to go or not. The site was described as a Catholic university: I think it comprises a girls’ secondary school; a small community of sisters and various facilities. There was a chapel, a church, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, lines of tea bushes and a bamboo forest. Mount Fuji loomed in the distance above the campsite. Dan left on Sunday night after the campfire to catch the train back to Yokohama for work on Monday.

Food

In charge of the kitchen was a fantastic Scouter called Morai san. She was helped by another lady Scouter whose name I never mastered. I didn’t master many names, to be honest. Anyway. I tried to help out in the kitchen and I chopped cabbage, set tables and dished out food and probably got in the way a lot. The kitchen was much bigger than Ennerdale or Branthwaite’s – I was really impressed with the facilities.

We ate a lot of rice and the meals were simple with the exception of the most awesome barbecue. I managed to lose 1.7 kilos over the four days without being hungry which was brilliant!

Anyway, that barbecue. It was AMAZING. There was rice (and chopped carrot) cooked in bamboo canes; pork; sweet rice balls on sticks wrapped in bacon and doused in soy sauce; sweetcorn; aubergine; fish; baguettes packed with mozzarella, onions, tomatoes, wholegrain mustard and spam; whole chickens; watermelon; the most wonderful smores I’ve ever eaten and this was all washed down with iced tea and lemon water.

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Activities

There was a lot of formality. Each morning there was flag break and muster followed by callisthenics.

Generally Dan and I were both taken aback by the lack of things to do. It was all very relaxed and there was no morning or afternoon snacks. So an activity would be penciled in for ALL MORNING. There was a hike around a trail of bamboo crosses (that also doubled as teaching about the stations of the cross); a water fight; swimming; a night walk in the graveyard entitled ‘Test of Courage’; a mass; bamboo crafts and the campfire.

The tradition in Japan is that everyone wears their neckers (or chiefs as they call them here) on their heads. Every six/ group had prepared a sketch and there were songs too. I got them to sing the Spanish song about bogies. Always high brow, me. The camp fire was started with a bottle of lit flammable liquid travelling down a wire to the prepared fire stack. Very impressive. The campfire leader, (the Scout leader), would lead everyone to sing a chant that translated “Good evening, who is here? [person about to perform yells their name], everyone chants “what will you do?” [person responds] and then they do their thing. The campfire ended with us all stood round the fire, holding hands and singing a song to the tune of the New World Symphony and then humming it. Just lovely.