Happy HALLWEEN?

Trip Start Jun 27, 2009
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Trip End Jun 25, 2011


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Sunday, October 21, 2007

October is the month for Japanese Sports Festival Day's or in Japanese 'Undoukai' (literally Exercise Meet), starting as young as Preschool and continuing until High School. These are highly ritualized events (like everything in Japan) in which each grade competes in different events such as running relays, tug of war, etc. There is marching in the beginning and the school song is sung. Next, stretches. Then there are speeches about how everyone should do their best. There's even a large portion of the day devoted to events for families to participate in. There are prizes given out to adults ranging from: a toaster to toilet paper, chairs, ceran wrap and even laundry detergent.

Sports Festival's are treated as an "open house" for the school, with preparations and practice for the event lasting up to a month prior, and both teachers and parents getting involved to put on a good show. Through observations I have inferred that attendance is practically mandatory (even if your dad is too busy to go, a mother not showing up to see their child participate would undoubtedly be the subject of much discussion). Even for the full-day of practice that I watched, there were probably 150 parents there. Schools spend lots of time and money preparing and drilling their kids for the show--for it is really a show, and a good show makes the school look good--like it is fulfilling its educational duties (through sports?!). 

Following the group mentality of Japanese society, team spirit is stressed versus actual athletic competition, so there are no events that have a single winner, instead there are only group events such as relay races. Even winning groups are not mentioned directly, instead the students are divided into two big teams (traditionally red and white, like the hats they wear to school everday, and the Japanese flag), and winning one event earns points for that team. In the end, the winning team receives a big trophy, and the not-winning team a slightly smaller one.

One thing I find interesting about the sports days are the fact that they make the little kids march!  I know, you need crowd control--the only way you can get a sea of little kids to do anything in an organized manner is to tell them exactly what to do and give them a beat. But I also see it as so military-like! Of course it has roots in Japan's fascist past and it only gets more fascist-looking in junior high and highschool- with middle schoolers actually marching in what looks like a Hitler-esque hand position! No matter how hard I try to get past the military-ness of the opening marches and think about how cute the kids are in their matching uniforms and hats, it still feels like an element of brainwashing involved. They practice for hours, which foot is first, where to stop and start your line, where your hands need to be when you're marching, etc, etc..

Despite all of this, it really does seem like everyone enjoys themselves- especially the kids. And that's what matters most! It's a pride thing also. It must be in their genes to enjoy a long day of sitting in the sun watching relays while sitting on a blue tarp. It's just different from anything I've known which is why I'm dwelling on the little things, like marching - but if I had grown up going to Japanese public schools I know this would all seem totally normal to me.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend any of them this year due to the camping trip Lily and I organized, but I did get to spend many lovely hours sitting outside watching them practice. (I included some of my favorite pictures)

A week ago I headed up to Osaka to celebrate my aussie friend Joe's birthday. I met up with Joe, Jessie (a new JET from florida) and Mac (from Chicago) about 3 hours north of where I live and we drove in Mac's car the rest of the way to Osaka. We decided to stay at a new hostel since we were kind of sick of the $20 "business hotel" we usually stay in (the idea behind them is--small, cheap rooms for business men who need to spend the night after a long day at work, and can't go home to the suburbs before the next day of work). Mac found a new place on-line which was SO nice, for double the price we got the use of a full kitchen, amazingly clean bathroom, rooftop deck and TV! Oh and did I mention a 12:00 check-out time?

We put our stuff down and headed out to the area of Osaka called Amerika-mura (American World) for dinner and drinks at an English Pub. Joe had wanted to try and catch rugby on TV, but no luck. We had fish and chips and foreign beers there before heading to an Australian bar and a few clubs. It was a great night and we slept really late the next day.

Saturday was the main reason for the trek to Osaka - the annual International Beer Summit! We made it there around 4pm, met up with about 20 other JET's from Wakayama, and had fun sampling beers from around the world. Some of the few beers I tried were from Belgium, Germany, Austria, Sri Lanka, India, and Palestine! It was a really fun festival, held underneath the Umeda Sky Building - a huge sky scraper building with an observation deck on top where you can look out over the entire city of Osaka. They had international food vedors and entertainment all day and evening, including performances by Salsa Dancers, Japanese Taiko Drummers, and even a Scottish dancing group. Afterwards we all headed to another club in Amerika-mura.

The next day I was really craving some food from home, so I dragged everyone to Outback!! It's kind of hard to find but we made it - and boy was it worth it, even though everyone was ready to kill me en route. We popped into an English Tea House after lunch and sampled some of Japanese finest collection of Earl Grey's, etc..before heading back to Mac's car to begin the trek home. I ended up missing my train home because we stopped for a leisurely dinner in Wakayama City, but wasn't really concerned about that because I had an office day the next day - so I just called my supervisor and told him I'd be taking the day off. We watched Transformers and hung out at Joe's house for the night. The one bad thing about living down south (besides being so far away from the city) and taking the train is you're really limited by train times! It's all good, my supervisor just informed me I have 34 days left off until August, so I don't think taking one day off now will really matter at all :)

Overall I had a great weekend in Osaka, lots of laughs, good food and good company. Can't wait to do it again this weekend for Halloween!

What else is going on...
Some of the parents of my 3rd grade students at my favorite school wanted my help in organizing a Halloween Party, in English! I of course was more than willing to do whatever I could to help out, and was so excited they were taking an interest in an American holiday and finally someone was utilizing ME! We met once to talk about details, they told me what crafts they had planned, and I told them about some popular American games I'd like to play with the kids.

We had the Halloween Party this past weekend and it was a big success! It was a small group of kids, but every kid had either one or both of his/her parents their and a few brought a younger sibling. The best part about the party was one of my students mom's is an English teacher at a local highschool, so she was there to translate for me all day. Sure made things a lot less stressful knowing she was there. I started the party off by giving a short introduction of Halloween in English (no one understood) which Mts.Otani promptly translated. Then the room moms took over and began explaining the two crafts the kids would make. Next the kids all stood up and did a self-introduction in English, which we had been practicing in class. Then I read Clifford's First Halloween (of course translated also) which the kids liked a lot. (Clifford isn't popular here) Then we did a fun 'mummy wrapping' activity where you have 2 minutes to wrap someone in toilet paper so they look like a mummy. Last game was to play 'Pin the Grin on the Pumpkin.' At the end of the party we handed out stickers, bags of candy, and a Halloween coloring book. The parents were really grateful that Lily and I came to help out and gave us a tote bag and freshly baked cookies!

Another week of teaching Halloween lessons, more pin the grin on the pumpkin, Halloween origami, mazes, mummy wrapping, and word finds. At least it's a break from the normal "What sport do you like?" and "When is your birthday?" stuff that I normally teach!

Speak to you all soon,
Kate
 
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