The Sports Festival is one of the three major events in Japanese schools that occur yearly – the others being the School Festival and the Graduation Ceremony. As the Sports Festival is so important, students and teachers put in a lot of time and effort preparing for it.
The Sports Festival is a whole-day event, and takes place sometime in the summer. Every student has to take part… whether they like it or not. In elementary schools, the students are divided into 2 teams – the red team and the white team, identified by the color of the caps that the students wear. For every grade, half of each class is part of the red team, while the white team comprises of the other half. In junior and senior high schools, classes compete against one another instead, and teams are identified by the color of the headband the students wear. In addition, each team in elementary schools has a cheerleading group that, before the competitions start and during some competitive events, go through traditional cheerleading routines that involve a combination of taiko drum beats, body movements and chants.
The actual proceedings for each school vary. But generally, in the beginning, students march onto the school field, and take up position for the flag-raising ceremony. The principal and some guests of honor give speeches, and the school song and national anthem are sung. Before the main events start, students do what is called 「ラジオ体操」 “rajio taiso” or “radio exercises”. Basically, everyone does a synchronized warming-up exercise, moving in accordance to spoken instructions being played back on a CD.
Before the commencement of competitive events, girls usually do a traditional Japanese dance while boys do 「組み体操」 “kumi taiso” or gymnastics formation. As both require precise movements and synchronization, practice sessions are especially tough for the students.
Competitive events usually include relays, bean bag tossing, obstacle courses, tugs-of-war, and the famed 「騎馬戦」 “kibasen” or Calvary Fight, the Japanese version of Chicken Fight. This last one involves a student hoisting his/her partner on the shoulders, who then tries to rip off the opposing team’s bandana to score a point… a truly heart-pounding game indeed!
As one of the three major school events, students practice very hard for the Sports Festival a few weeks before the actual event, for almost every day. These include march-pasts, songs, dance and gymnastics moves – everything, from start to finish. In elementary schools, students even practice the proper way to react when the winning team is announced at the end of the day! The standard procedure is for the winners to raise both their hands in the air, shouting 「万歳」“banzai” (literally translated as “10,000 years old”, but it roughly means “long live our team!” here) twice in unison. Any other show of joy or victory is strictly forbidden. In return, the losing team must give a big round of applause to their opponents.
Anyone watching the Sports Festival will definitely be amazed by the sheer quality of the performance put in by the students from start to finish… It’s a good reminder of how trustworthy products with the “Made in Japan” tag are. But know that the students put in a lot of hard work and effort, and not every kid likes to work hard...