Saturday will be my school’s undokai, or field day. That is, it will be if the weather holds. I’m actually hoping it doesn’t, and gets rescheduled to Sunday, since that means I can stay out later in Tokyo on Friday. I remember doing field day in my elementary school, and we had them also in middle school and high school at Zionsville. They were ok, but if we’d done events like these, it would’ve been much more exciting. They have the usual dashes and relays, but then there are some other ones that are much more exciting – and dangerous – than what I ever did. There are four colored teams – red, blue, green, and yellow. Each is comprised of a mix of 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-year students. There are team competitions within each grade, as well as competitions that use a mix of ages.
One event is a train of 2nd-year students, 7 or 8 long, their left legs tied together and the same on the right side, so they all have to move their legs in unison to go. Each color team has four sets, two boys and two girls, and they have to run a relay. It’s rather comical to watch, especially when the first one falls down and everyone behind him creates a huge pileup.
If that’s not daring enough, the 1st-year students have to do an event that would have American school board lawyers wringing their hands. There’s a bamboo pole, about 15 or 18 feet (2 or 2 1/2 meters) tall. It’s held straight up by four boys bracing its bottom, as well as four ropes tied to the top, pulled out and held down by three or four students. There are 3 flags about 2/3 of the way up. A team of three kids carry one of their lighter teammates up to the pole and this last one shinnies up and grabs a flag, slides down and races off on his/her “chariot” back to the starting line. This is repeated by 2 other sets of “horse and rider.” Once all the flags are down, they have to go back up and drop the flags in the top hole of the bamboo pole. The first team to do this is the winner.
The 3rd-year students have an odd form of tug-of-war. There are four ropes on the ground. The one in the middle, the longest, is worth two points. The other three are shorter and each is worth 1 point. Two teams face off from a starting line and have to run and pull as many ropes as they can over to their side. Obviously, most kids go for the two-pointer, but the element of strategy enters into it, since even if you get the longest one, you can still lose. It looks like fun.
The Taifun is another unique one, though not nearly as dangerous, although it can cause some damage. Students of all ages on each team line up five abreast, half on one side, half on the other, of a diamond with corners of cones. One line takes a length of bamboo and the five of them have to run to the first cone, go around, run to the next, go around, and so on until they reach the other half of their team. The middle three split off and the two end students have to run the pole underneath their comrades, who all have to jump in perfect time or risk having their legs knocked out from under them. Then they crouch as the pole is brought forward just over the tops of their heads to the first row who take off in the other direction. The first team to have all rows finish crouches down and stands the pole upright in front of them is the winner.
The last competition that I’ve seen them practicing this past week is a sort of team jump-rope. It’s pretty normal, using the bulkiest 3rd-years to swing the rope and everyone else jumping. One team I saw got 31 jumps on the first try, so I’m guessing they’ll win.
It will be fun to go and watch the kids compete, not to mention I’ll get a day off this week so I can relax. I’m scheduled to run at some point with the English club, though not in a teacher competition. I think the gym teachers or PTA are going to do some race, so I might try and get in on that.