Japan Society of Fairfield County
Greenwich Japanese School Sports Festival 2006
by Vernon Beck
As president of JSFC, I was invited to attend
the Sports Festival at
the Greenwich Japanese School, which generously hosted our own Ohanami
on April 23, 2006. The event proved to be of great interest to me as it
contrasted 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
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, most of which was in
English and was typical of what would be used in Japan. The competitors
entered the field at the start of an event through an entry gate that
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 "Keep trying with spirit" and everyone got
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. Usually three grade levels ran a set of heats with
individual heats consisting of a single grade. The children were
obviously trying with considerable spirit. Everyone ran once in a
sprint with 2 or 3 other runners and was lined up with the preceding
runners who placed the same in their own heat. After the event the
athletes marched off the field with their finishing groups from the
corner of the field opposite the entry gate.
The group events were
clever and rewarded teamwork. The first event involved fifth and sixth
graders trying to pull poles to their end of the field. Eight 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 very Japanese event.
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 6' 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.
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 4 students had to carry
a pipe crossways (perpendicular to the direction of motion) around a
course of cones.
The next event involved moving the large 6’
around the field and balancing it on the legs of an overturned student
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 runner
was limited to run on the backs of his 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 version of the bamboo dance from the Philippine Islands
done with the ever-present PVC pipes. Fourth, fifth, and sixth graders
formed groups of 6. Four students stepped in and out of the pipes which
were being clapped together by two students at the ends.
pleasant picnic lunch (and it was extra pleasant because the sun came
out, banishing the rain predicted for the day), the second portion of
the program was begun by another set of team cheers totaling about 15
minutes. A student with a black belt in judo lead one of the team’s
The first afternoon event was a centipede race
for the 5th,
6th, 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
with pompoms. Their performance was intricate and more closely
resembled the performance of a high school marching band doing
formations. 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 6' 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. Unfortunately one of the large balls was not up to the students'
high spirits and its multicolored cloth cover popped with a bang. The
competition was completed by timing individual team runs. The red team
eked out a victory on the final run.
The closing ceremony involved
presenting awards to the red and white teams. The ceremony was
structured to honor both teams although a few individual awards were
made too. The winner take all spirit was notably absent.
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. They are responsible for cleaning the school and serving
lunch. At the end of the event, I asked vice principal Osa how long the
students had been preparing for the sports festival. I was surprised at
the answer – only two weeks. Of course, the students knew the sports
festival was coming so in some sense they were preparing all year. The
level of cooperation between the students was high as was their
sportsmanship. The sports festival was quite traditional; the adults I
was sitting with fondly remembered their experiences in the same events
when they were children in Japan. Perhaps I’m a bit more Japanese now
that I can fondly remember my experiences at Sports Festival.
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