Japan Society of Fairfield County
Greenwich Japanese School Sports Festival 2008
by Vernon Beck
As vice president of JSFC, I was invited to
the Sports Festival at
the Greenwich Japanese School, which generously hosted the JSFC Ohanami
on April 20, 2008. The Sports Festival is the major event in the
Japanese school year. Since my quick internet search failed to find
significant english language material I chose to give a more extensive
description of the GJS Sports Festival
as a way to contrast Japanese and American educational philosophies.
The GJS has
over 200 students ranging from first grade through ninth grade. The
elementary school consists of grades 1-6 and the junior high school
grades 7-9. The 2008 program was very similar to the 2006 program
I attended and also reported on in this website. This year I knew to
my camera so there are many photographs to accompany the article.
For purposes of competition the school was
divided into two
teams, red and white. The teams included all the students in the school
from the youngest to the oldest as well as the handicapped. The older
more able students were expected to provide some help to their younger
teammates. The program consisted of group events and sprints where
individuals would compete. Students took turns announcing the events in
Japanese and English and they did a good job in both languages. The
events were often accompanied by Disney music, occasionally in
English, and was typical of what would be used in Japan. The
entered the field at the start of an event through a traditional entry
had been erected.
Stretching exercises were first on the agenda.
15 minutes was devoted to team cheering. Each team had an opportunity
to cheer; the theme was "Find your inner Power/It's time to Shine" and
charged up. A taiko drum was available for use in the cheering.
Japanese cheering is far more organized and taken more seriously than
in the US.
The first set of sprints were run by the
third, fourth, and
eighth graders. Everyone ran once in a
sprint with 2 to 4 other runners in the same grade level. The
obviously trying hard. After the heat the children were lined up
with the preceding
runners who placed the same in their own heat. This was the extent of
The group events were
clever and demanded teamwork. The first event involved fifth and sixth
graders trying to pull poles to their end of the field. Five 1-1/2"
diameter PVC plastic pipes 10' long were placed across the field
centerline. The two teams gathered at opposite ends of the field and
after a starting signal ran to the field center to grab the poles and
drag them to their end of the field. Sometimes a good sprinter could
grab a pole and take it back unopposed, but usually more and more
students grabbed on in a growing tug of war.
After two sets of sprints,
the 3rd, 4th, and 8th graders participated in a relay which had a very
During some Japanese summer festivals portable shrines are carried
through the streets by competing teams. For this event two 10' plastic
pipes and a large ball about 4' in diameter comprised the shrine which
was carried by a team of 5 students of varying age: one in front
holding the front ends of both pipes; two in the rear, each holding the
rear end of a pipe; and two on the sides, keeping the ball balanced on
the pipes. The competition was a relay race so that everyone had a
chance to participate. The ball was alternately carried
using the pipes and
rolled around the track by successive teams.
Next the first and second graders participated
in a tug-o-war. The first graders started on the rope and
graders had to run half way round the field before being allowed to
join in pulling the rope. More sprints followed.
The third and fourth
graders then participated in a relay race where 5 students had to carry
a pipe crossways (perpendicular to the direction of motion) around a
course of cones. When they returned the pole to the starting
point, all waiting team members first had to jump over the pole and
then have the
pole carried back over their heads before the next team of 5 began to
run with the pole
across the field.
The next race was based on the Japanese animae
series Galaxy Express. The series first appeared several decades
ago and is about a ghostly steam train which travels to strange and
often sad worlds throughout the galaxy. The train is in the charge of a
small ghost conductor who rides in the boiler of the engine.
The Japanese language program listed the event as Galaxy Express 127
because it was for first, second, and seventh graders. One student from
each grade occupied one of three hoola-hoops connected together and
all moved together as one unit, the train. The first grader was
with a hat similar to that used by the conductor.
The parents and teachers participated in the
next event which was
somewhat like basketball. The object was to throw about 25 small balls
(or cushions) into a basket about 10' high. There was no backboard and
participants surrounded the net and threw balls from all directions.
Once all the small balls were in the net a single soccer ball was
thrown into the net to finish the event.
The junior high school
students next had an unusual race up and down the field involving all
the students. Each team had only one runner in this race but the
racecourse consisted of the backs of all the other teammates.
Each team formed a
line down the length of the field, bending over and putting their hands
on their knees. Student spotters accompanied the runner on each side as
he ran over his classmates. Since there were not enough students to
make a line the length of the field, they needed to run to the head of
the line so the runner didn't run out of backs.
The last event of the
morning was a dance based on Lion King done by the fourth, fifth, and
pleasant picnic lunch (and it was extra pleasant because the sun was
out, banishing the rain predicted for the day just like in 2006), the
second portion of
the program was begun by another set of team cheers totaling about 15
minutes. Two students dressed in hakima lead the red team’s
The first afternoon event was a centipede race
for the 5th, 2nd, and 9th graders. Approximately ten students were
lined up in a
"Chain Gang" with all their left ankles tied to one rope and all their
right ankles tied to another rope. Cooperation was inevitable in this
All the first, second, and third graders then
put on a dance. Their performance was intricate and based on a
fisherman's song from the northern island of Hokkaido. It was an
impressive program done by very young children.
All the junior high students then formed human
pyramids. The tallest
pyramid had students stacked 5 high with the top student about 10' in
the air. Less able students made smaller two high stacks.
elementary students then ran a relay race of 12 runners. The red and
white teams subdivided into 2 or 3 teams which were competing for the
parent team. The junior high school students then ran a similar relay
The last event of the day was a race between
the entire red and
white teams. Each team had to pass the large 4' ball overhead down the
length of the field, around a pylon, and back. First graders started
the line and passed the ball back to the taller second graders and so
forth. at the end of the race, the ball had to be balanced upon
the four legs of an overturned student desk.
The closing ceremony involved
presenting awards to the red and white teams. The ceremony was
structured to honor both teams. The winner take all spirit was notably
absent. The red team won and received the flag shown to the right
and the white team received a trophy cup.
After the closing
ceremony the students did not leave, but put away the equipment,
chairs, tables, etc. Japanese elementary school students take a much
greater role in the upkeep of their school than their American
counterparts. Often they are responsible for cleaning the school and
lunch. In 2006 I was told that the students only spent two weeks
for the Sports Festival. Of course, the students knew the sports
festival was coming so in some sense they were preparing all
year. The sports festival was quite traditional; many of the
was sitting with fondly remembered their experiences in the same events
when they were children in Japan. One remarked that the equipment is
very inexpensive which was a tradition that was started from the
post-war poverty that gripped Japan. The
event was designed to promote cooperation between students and good
sportsmanship and succeeded wonderfully..
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