Undokai

Mr. Wilson gets everyone organised
So, last week was my daughter's sports day. She's in her third year at elementary school, so we've done a few of them already. As you might have thought (expected even), they do sports days a little differently here. Where I come from (the 1970s), sports days are (were) a relatively low key, not to mention haphazard, affair. 


Me (leaning forward, brown hair) and the boys
All the kids watched, most of them took part in at least one event. The sporty kids got to do loads of events, and the less sporty kids got to fetch and, if 
they were really lucky, carry stuff, under the convenient guise of being 'monitors'. All the teachers would be there. The kind and patient ones helped to look after the kids, especially when they got bored (the kids, I mean - the teachers were always bored). The organized teachers, organized the races, and tried hard to organize all the people too, including each other. And the officious teachers, perhaps unsurprisingly, officiated. At the end of the afternoon, the headmaster would stroll out in his linen mix suit and rollable panama hat, hand out a few trophies and rosettes, say something motivational through a megaphone, and then fuck off back into his office for another g and t. Happy days.

In my whole time at school, my father never came came to watch, and my mother only once. And damn right too; I was mortified on the one occasion she did turn up. I still have nightmares about the hat she wore that day, and the grief it brought to my door.

Opening ceremony
By contrast, your average undokai in Japan, is (almost) as spectacular and as well run as the olympics and, like the olympics, it's watched by just about everyone: parents, grandparents, siblings, assorted other relatives, friends, even old teachers from previous schools. If you consider that an average elementary school might have somewhere around 500 kids, then you can see why there may be getting on for 4000 plus people at the sports day just to watch. It's a large but manageable number you might think, until I point out that these visitors do not just stop by to take in a race or two on their way to the supermarket or some other place. No, if they are there, then they are there all day, including to take part in the mass picnic which invariably, and neatly, cuts the day in two.
Haruki ready to race
Hana ready to dance
Hana starting to get into it
So, they all need somewhere to tuck in, rest their weary legs and basically crash for a while. It's not just that walking around a sports field watching a few events is very tiring, although it is, especially when you count the taking photographs and videoing fatigue factor; seriously, how much footage do you need of your middle child coming second (again)? No, what you have to remember, is that some of these people have been on the go for a very long time. The mums have been  up since 5.30 putting together the beautiful picnic now laid out so splendidly. The dads were at the gates long before they opened, in an attempt to secure the best spots to lay down the regulation-sized tarp, and associated paraphernalia (cushions, foldable tables and the like). Just so that we're clear about this, the majority of dads arrive between 5.30 and 6.00, the really serious ones at about 4, and the hardcore nutters, as their camp stools, blankets, and empty beer cans will testify, have been there all night. They can sleep after lunch, they're job is done; the prime spot was secured and held... and they only had to queue for 12 hours. Result! Yes, they won't be needed until it's time to pack up and carry stuff home. You think I'm exaggerating, don't you? I truly wish that I was. Frankly, I'm embarrassed for them.
Fathers and kids' race - only one broken ankle this year



Go boys!



Pyramid!
Well, there's the description; there's what I saw, but how was it? How was the day? You know what , I had a great time; I always do. I rolled up at 7.00, which I reckon is more than earlier enough to get the spot in the gym that we like (and it always is). I put the picnic sheet down, nipped home for a bit of breakfast, and strolled back up with the family about 10 minutes before kick-off. Watched a few events, took a few snaps, avoided the dad's race by going to the park across the road with the small (that is, bored) one, and got back just in time for lunch... lovely. The afternoon was even easier; watched fewer events, took fewer snaps, checked out the mum's race then, during the speeches, packed up and fucked off before the rush. The job was indeed a good one! I'm already looking forward to the next one. I might queue all night just to get some beers in. Then again, I might not.
White nicks it this year... grrrr... rematch!















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