Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Everyone Jump! みんなでJUMP!鷲東中運動会

Japan is a place where the group is more important than its members, the team more important than the all-star. The insiders call this attitude "group thinking" while the outsiders call it "following the herd." Ask a Japanese junior high student during a field day, 運動会, and they'll tell you with a big happy smile that it's nothing more than good 'ol fashioned teamwork.

While some American schools are getting rid of field days claiming the events are too competitive; field days are, and always will be a vital part of Japanese school life because they are competitive in a good way: the emphasis is placed on team performance, not on the individuals. There's no I(ndividual) in team. Students compete as a homeroom team against other homeroom teams of the same grade level. Competing as a team takes pressure off the individual, letting everyone compete better and have more fun, which is what field days should be about.

And Japanese field days are blast because most of the events are pretty goofy. Sure they run 100m dashes and relay races, but those are only the filler events between the big shows: the hand blistering class tug-of-war, the marvel of coordination class jump rope, and the ever exciting typhoon run.

The all-class tug-of-war is a joy to watch. Here two classes match their brute forces in a battle of torque, grunting, and contorted faces. It's brilliant to see the students who spend 90% of their school life asleep (minus lunch) wake up and crank on a rope with never-before-seen passion. Teachers stand on the side and root for their team, sometimes yelling threats instead of encouragement.

That's the teacher's primary job at the field day: to root for their classes and make sure everyone is where they should be when the gun fires start. The main event of the day at East Junior Highs, (鷲宮町立東中学校) field day was called みんなでJUMP, which translates kinda like a Van Halen song- "Everybody Jump!" Don't forget the "together" part though because this all-class jump rope contest. All the homeroom class teams line up with 30 plus people in the middle and one rope swinger at each end. When the gun fires the teams have 3 minutes to get the most consecutive jumps they can. The winning team jumped 34 times! The team in the video below came in a very close second jumping 33 times! I almost forgot, there are around 35 students in each class. That's 35 junior high students doing the same thing for same goal at the same time. That's teamwork.

The third event that is a total blast to watch is called the 'typhoon'. Typhoon is a fit name for this class relay wherein the four students run around cones with a long laundry poles. The four run to a cone in the middle of the linear course where the inside person will act as a pivot while the outside people run around the cone like a sweep on a radar screen. Once around the first cone, they run to the second cone at the end of the course and turn around, repeating the sweeping action at the middle cone and returning to base. At base, the groups waiting to run duck under the pole as it passes over them and then jump over it as it comes back under them. When all that is completed the next group of four set out. {Wow, that was hard to explain, here's the video where you can see why it's called the typhoon.}

Watching the field day I couldn't help but think back on my own junior high days. I was a skateboarder and I couldn't give a rat's ass about homeroom class, much less my school in general. I had no "Frenship Tiger Spirit," and neither did anyone else I knew who wasn't a football player or a cheerleader. I didn't care because I didn't have a reason too. The only scores that mattered were TAAS scores. Outside of pep rallies the school did nothing as a whole, and even at the pep rallies the majority of us didn't much care about football because we weren't playing it. I didn't have any pride in my class but I wish I did. If I were made to participate in a field day in junior high I probably wouldn't have liked it, but I would've participated, and, who knows, I might've enjoyed it, especially if I could jump rope or run around in circles with a laundry pole.


Photos: Top: There are three trophies which are awarded to the best teams in each of the three grade levels. Middle: Students grunting through the tug of war. Video 1: "Everybody jump 33 times." Video 2: the super fun looking Typhoon Relay

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