Thursday, 30 September 2010

PostHeaderIcon Sports Day: Destroyer of Weekends

Symbolism... sports day... prison... witty caption

There's a strong possibility that you've read me complaining about the school sports day that occurs every September.  I'm sure you think I'm whinging over nothing as an afternoon of sprints and relays is nothing.  However, the sports day in Japanese schools is taken exceptionally seriously... well, by the P.E teacher who is in charge of it anyway.  The whole month of September is saturated with afternoon practices and more often than not it is the English class that gets booted out the curriculum.  The worst thing is that it is always held on a Saturday or Sunday so that weekend is pretty much written off for most JETs.  However, the real crime committed by this celebration of physical activity is that some sports day are held on a national holiday.  Indeed, this is usually a Monday so any plans for a long weekend trip are subsequently wrecked as well.  The day itself starts from about 9am and doesn't finish until about 3-4pm.  This year there were 23 events.  The opening and closing ceremonies go on forever as well.  All the students walk about marching, waving flags and then warm up to Celine Dion music.  Sports day is a living hell.
I usually spend most of the day under the teacher's tent sitting in a terribly old chair next to some terribly old people.  However, I just couldn't handle another day of such a soul-crushing atmosphere so I wandered around the outside of grounds and talked to some primary school kids and their grandparents.  Despite the event being on a Sunday a small majority of the student's parents don't bother their arse to show up.  This means that I've often been asked to participate in some joint parent/student events in the previous years.  However, in the past two years I've always had to do the three-legged race with some kid half my height and double my weight.  I wasn't really in the mood for smashing my face into the dusty ground again so I wore my sandals and hid under a tree all morning and let the other teachers fill the gap.  As is the case with most town events, I am persistently asked to come along but then I am subsequently ignored by everyone when I get there.  I sat in the teacher's tent for two hours and not one person said a word to me the whole time.  The only person who approached me that day was a bloke from Cambodia.  He actually startled me to begin with and I thought he was just a bit of a mental local.  I hate to say it but the majority of people who approach me to communicate in Kochi (and Japan I guess) can be a little bit eccentric.  It's better than nothing though so I can't really complain.  Anyway, he spoke about two or three words of English and I knew straight away that he wasn't Japanese as he was far too good.  Also, I have obviously met fluent English speakers in Japan but they tend to retain their Japanese accent or sound American (I always prefer the former).  I had a very enjoyable conversation with him and we alternated between English and Japanese which was quite an interesting situation to be in.  He had studied Japanese for two years in Cambodia and was now on a three month home stay in Tano.  I gave him my phone number in case he needed any help with anything in the future or if he wanted to hang out.  Now, I often rant about what's wrong with Japan and the like but I take no joy in saying that it is the most normal conversation I have had with anyone in Tano.  There is just something forever present in the Japanese mind that means they struggle to communicate with a foreigner.  I don't exactly know what it is but it appears to be a mixture of them getting flustered/nervous at the prospect or even taking the condescending view that a gaijin and a Japanese can't possibly communicate.  There's also an ever present barrier in the middle of the conversation that the Japanese person uses to make sure both parties know exactly that they are different people.  I don't know... in a few minutes I was talking to the Cambodian about normal things that didn't involve bringing up the differences in our nationalities.  It's sad to say that I've only rarely felt like that in any of my offices or schools.  I've met a few friends who have managed to drop the "gaiin elephant in the room" attitude but the majority of them introduce themselves under such an umbrella.  I'm sure there are other foreigners living in Japan who disagree but these are my feelings regarding my time in Kochi.
I returned in the afternoon with a flask of gin and tonic.  I decided that the previous three years of being a responsible ALT at such events was enough service to the JET cause.  I wanted to have a relaxing time since it was a Sunday and I still had three hours to sit in the baking sun feigning interest and excitement.  Therefore, I sat on a log under a tree and preceded to drink the best tasting drink I've ever had.  I think I was feeling a bit drunk so I went and got some fureido poteto and ended up buying about ten bags for all the first grade kids at primary school.  It was the best sports day I've ever been to.  I left before the cleaning up was due to start which felt good.  The question is... how many Japanese people does it take to take down a tent?  The answer is twelve.


Mr. Salaryman said...

Hey, just wanted to say thanks for commenting on my blog and after seeing yours I also went out and got that "linkWithin" thingy! Pretty nice stuff, thanks for the inspiration!

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.