Sports Festival—Saturday, September 8th
Well, we spent a week preparing, and it was finally here: the Sports Festival. I was assigned to Akagumi, so all week I followed them around, and now I would finally see the result of all their practice.
Because it was on a Saturday, Monday would be a holiday. Yay! That means I get a day off! However, that also means that I worked for six days straight. By Saturday, I was very tired.
And I still had to go to school at 8:00AM.
When I arrived in my fancy work clothes, everyone was dressed in the same blue shirt. I had brought some sporty clothes to change into, but I did not have a blue shirt like everyone else. Was I supposed to get a shirt before? Why didn’t anyone tell me?
Um… Well, it turns out, someone did. I just didn’t understand what they were talking about at the time.
Earlier in the week, one of the teachers approached me and mentioned some school shirt or something. I was a little confused, but eventually she got to the point—asking me what size I am. Ohh. So I told her, and then…
On Saturday, there was a blue shirt on my desk! Score.
We all started the day with a heavy round of drinking.
Just kidding. Sort of.
When the staff was assembled in the staff room, someone began to pour sake, and I remembered that someone had mentioned a good luck ceremony or something. I’ve noticed that the toast (kanpai) is an important part of a lot of things in Japan—most of the receptions and dinners I’ve gone to have to start with one. It felt weird to be drinking in the morning, though, and I noticed that after everyone shouted KANPAII, a lot of the female teachers poured their sake into a male teacher’s cup.
Female teachers: “LOL LET’S GET THE MEN DRUNK THEN WE CAN DO WHATEVER WE WANT.”
(That’s what they do on Mad Men, amiright?)
The festival officially started at 9:00, and it opened with the students marching out, a few speeches, and the raising of the flag. (I kept wondering if we had to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Jeez, remember middle school? They drill that shit into you.)
On Sports Day, there are two teams: Red Team (Akagumi) and White Team (Shirogumi). The teams compete in games, relays, and races, and they score points for any wins. At the end of the day, the points are totaled up, and the winning team gets a trophy and bragging rights.
The festival was really fun to watch, but like the rest of the week, I didn’t have much to do. During the week, I had helped flatten the track. It’s just a dirt track, so there were some bumps and dips and chasms (did an asteroid hit the field or something?) that we filled with dirt or smoothed out. But on the actual day of the festival, there wasn’t much to do, and I wasn’t sure if anyone needed help with anything. The students took care of themselves, and there was no setting up that needed to be done. So… I kind of just sat there.
And laughed. Some of the games were pretty crazy.
The male students played a game called “Cavalry,” which is apparently considered too dangerous in America to play. At least, that’s what everyone tells me. When American students come to Japan, all of the Japanese students want to show the foreigners this game, because they know we don’t have it in America.
It actually reminds me of Chicken, which is actually usually banned from most pools and oceans. (In case you don’t know, Chicken is a pool game. One person sits on the other’s shoulders, and then this team battles other teams, trying to knock them down.)
It occurs to me that Chicken might actually be safer than Cavalry.
In Cavalry, teams of four students arrange themselves like this:
Then they run forward, like they’re on a battle field (hence “cavalry”), and duke it out. It looks really violent—I kept worrying that kids were going to get their eyes gouged out—but all they have to do is rip the bandana from the other person’s head.
The other game the boys played that I thought looked really fun was like Capture the Flag. A flag is placed at the top of a bamboo pole, and then the teams raise the pole and gather around it to keep it steady. Some boys play defense like this—keeping the pole steady—and others play offense, running to the other team, climbing up the pole, and trying to take the flag.
In the first round, the Akagumi won, but only because they… sort of cheated. A Shirogumi player got their flag, but a few boys grabbed him and tried to take the flag from him before he could run the flag to the goal. Akagumi got their flag to the goal first because of that. I think the referee called foul, and they started the second round. Shirogumi ended up winning that game, even though I think Akagumi won 2/3. But… that’s what they get for cheating…
The girls did Tug-o’-War and a lot of relays, so nothing too exciting that might hurt their poor weak defenseless girl bodies.
One class (3rd years maybe?) played a game that we called “Wanted.” It was a relay in which students run forward, pick up a card with someone’s name or something written on it, and then they find that person. For example: “Person with glasses,” or “Koucho-sensei” (Principal). When they find that person, they hold hands and run around a cone, then race to the finish line.
During this game, one of the girl students frantically called my name. I knew what the game was, but I still felt really confused. XD I jumped down, and she grabbed my hand and led me through the obstacles. I think we—she—won. XD
That game was pretty funny—Koucho-sensei was called like three times, and so was a tiny little boy (he had to be, like, 3 years old) and a few moms.
I also participated in a relay with the staff and the PTA. The 1st year students had a relay race, and the teachers and PTA ran in the fifth lane alongside them. At 8:00 in the morning, Komatsu-sensei told me that I would run in the relay with the staff. XD No warning whatsoever. But okay.
I was a little worried, because at first, I thought it was just a staff relay (no students), and I didn’t want to let my team down. I’m good at running, but I’m better at long-distance than sprints. I’m not slow, but I’ll admit, I wanted to impress the teachers.
When I found out that it would just be one lane of teachers with four lanes of students, that actually didn’t relieve me—so do I try really hard to beat the students, or do I let them win?
Luckily, that didn’t turn out to be a problem.
I was the last person at my station to run, so I watched the whole race to see what everyone else was doing. All of the other teachers and the PTA members were running as fast as they could, so I figured it would be fair to run really fast, too.
And then, when it was my turn, I found out that I was running against my student Yusuke.
So I could run as fast as I wanted. MWAHAHAHA!
Kamada-sensei passed me the baton (I’m really not used to relays; I wasn’t sure how to start, but it worked out), and when I started, Yusuke started, too. He thought it was pretty funny that we were racing against each other. I pulled ahead pretty quickly, and he shouted something (probably translated into “NOOO!”). After I reached the bend in the track, I realized that I could be running faster, so I put on a burst of speed, and I heard Yusuke behind me shouting again (probably translated into “AWW MAN!”).
I think he had been gaining on me until that point. XD
The last thing I participated in was the obstacle course, and I was informed of that at the very last minute. Kamada-sensei waved me over.
Kamada-sensei: “You will compete in the obstacle course. Come this way.”
Kamada-sensei: “Can you read Japanese?”
It was the silliest obstacle course ever, and I would be lying to you if I said I hadn’t wanted to try it all damn week while I was watching the students.
First, they crawled under a blue tarp, then ran and jumped on the tiniest tricycles ever, then picked up a card that told them what to do to the finish line (skip, hop on one leg, run backwards, cartwheel, etc.). Kamada-sensei told me that she would translate the card for me when we reached them.
For the teachers, though, Kamada-sensei said that we were going to entertain the crowd. She told me that Kawana-sensei was going to crawl into the blue tarp, but the other teachers—me, Kamada-sensei, and one other female teacher—would run around the tarp and step on the other side to keep him from making it through.
I got really excited and may have tried a little too hard to keep him from going through—Kamada-sensei was just standing on the tarp, but I held it down with my hands, too—but it was really funny. We finally broke away, letting Kawana-sensei free, and finished the race. The card I picked up said run backwards, but I could only read “run.” Kamada-sensei translated it for me.
She won. XD
At the end of the day, the points were tallied and—drum roll—Shirogumi won! The team screamed, and to my surprise and confusion, everyone burst into tears.
Akagumi was devastated. They cried quietly—some of them sobbed. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. I was trying so hard not to laugh at their (possible) pain.
The student leaders had to give some speeches and introduce the principal to finish off the day, but some of them were crying too hard to speak. It was ridiculous. I mean, they tried really hard and prepared all week, but jeez… I worked my ass off preparing for the gorram 500m swim, and I never won, and I never cried.
It was sweet, really. They were all really moved, I guess. And mostly girls cried, though a few boys looked pretty upset. The boys weren’t as animated, if they did cry at all.
Since I was on Akagumi, at the final huddle, I gathered with that team. The student leaders (all, like, ten of them) gave some speeches about how hard everyone worked, and the teachers said some things, too.
Some of the teachers were crying, too.
Komatsu-sensei asked me to give a speech, too, and she said she would translate for me. I tried a few phrases in Japanese—just like, “good job,” and “thanks for your hard work”—and had her translate “I’m really proud of you guys” for me.
And I was proud of them—they had worked really hard, and I think they had fun despite having lost the day. That’s all that really matters. :)
The teachers and PTA were having an enkai that night to celebrate the Sports Festival, and I totally wanted to go. I probably wouldn’t be able to talk to people very much, but I figured it would be fun regardless.
It would also be expensive. I ended up spending $130 that night. I cannot do these all the time. Jeez.
Kamada-sensei offered to drive me, so at 6:30, she picked me up and drove me to a Japanese inn, where the dinner was held. We had to walk up some very steep stairs—I felt like I was back at UCSC.
At the dinner, everyone gave speeches—EVERYONE. It was very different—I think usually in America, only the boss-people give speeches, but I guess in Japan, everyone does. I think it puts people on a more equal level.
I also had to give a speech, but I wasn’t sure how to say it in Japanese, so Koucho-sensei (principal) said that English was okay. I spoke slowly and with some easy words, and Komatsu-sensei didn’t even have to translate, because most people understood and even reacted in all the right places. It was pretty funny.
After I was done, Kawana-sensei stood up to make another speech (I think he was the host guy for the night). He teased me about the relay, because I tried really hard to block his way. He also said that I worked very hard all week, helping students prepare, but I don’t know what he was talking about. I didn’t really do anything.
The food was good. They were serving whale, and I was a little afraid to eat it. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I managed to avoid it, and at the end of the night, it was packed up for me in a doggy-bag. So whatever. (I still didn’t eat it; it just sat in my fridge, forgotten. |D What a waste.)
I really loved the miso eggplant dish the most (which is why it’s eaten in that photo). And the desserts were delicious. Best. Desserts. Ever. I think it was ice cream and mochi and some fruit, which sounds boring, but let me tell you, it was so good.
Komatsu-sensei and I talked about how this is my first time in Japan—and really, my first time out of California. I’ve been to other states, but I’ve never left the West side of America (the furthest East I’ve gone is probably the Four Corners.)
And I’ve certainly never lived anywhere else. I have also never been outside of the U.S. before, and when I told her that, she seemed impressed.
Komatsu-sensei: “You are very brave, I think, and you are also very positive.”
She asked me if it was hard, if I was having any trouble (which people constantly ask me), and I told her that sometimes it was hard, but for the most part, I just feel really lucky.
Me: “It’s really just a good experience for me, so I’m really excited to be here.”
I still haven’t cried yet, not in Japan anyway. I cried in El Cerrito, after Bryan dropped me off at Anne’s house. I cried in Torrance (or on the way to Torrance). But that was because I missed my friends already. But I haven’t cried in Japan yet. I think the Torrance tears got me all cried out.
I’ve gotten close to crying a few times, but that was because I watched some really sad Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. Those kids break my heart sometimes. (Tara! Tara, no!)
Usually after an enkai ends, there is a second party called “nijikai.” It’s usually less formal, and all of the nijikais I’ve heard of take place at karaoke places or places called “Snacks.” “Snacks” are apparently kind of… decidedly not-classy, judging by the way the other ALTs talk about them. They are small bars staffed by one or two women who serve the guests. The way people describe it, it’s like hostess bars (or—dare I say it?—old timey geisha stuff). I didn’t know about them before my nijikai, but apparently my nijikai was at a Snack. A lot of female ALTs don’t like to go to nijikais that are at Snacks, because often only the men go (and it can get awkward), but there were a lot of women teachers going, so it was fine for me.
Kamada-sensei called me over during enkai to ask if I was going. She said that she was not, so she was worried about how I would get home. I wanted to go, but I was also worried about that. I asked Komatsu-sensei what I should do, and she suggested that a second Kawana-sensei could do daiko with me, since he was going home in the same direction as me. We asked him if this was all right, and he said yes.
I was a little nervous, because I had not met this Kawana-sensei before, but apparently, last year he was the principal of Tomiura Junior High. So, for the purposes of this entry (and differentiating between him and Kawana-sensei), I will call him Kawana-koucho. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s how I’m going to do it.
The bar we went to was one narrow room with three tables, a karaoke machine, and a bar manned (or “womanned”) by two women. I followed Itou-sensei to a table nearest the karaoke machine, not really thinking that I might want to sit next to people who speak English. Komatsu-sensei, the only other English speaker that went to nijikai, was sitting all the way at the end of the second table. A man from the PTA sat next to me, and across from me were Kawana-koucho and Koucho-sensei.
We all ordered drinks, and when we got ours, Kawana-koucho wanted to start drinking right away.
Kawana-koucho: “Kanpai shiyou.” [“Let’s toast.”]
So we toasted, and he drank. Koucho-sensei and the PTA member sitting next to me scolded him.
Koucho-sensei: [translated] “Don’t drink yet! We haven’t done kanpai!”
Kawana-koucho: [translated] “No, it’s okay. I did kanpai with her.”
We karaoked, and at one point, Koucho-sensei turned to me and told me that I would sing a song. (LOL I WILL?) I thought he said that he was going to sing a song with me, but after I chose a song that I knew (and that I thought he might know), he said that I would be singing alone. (He did end up singing a song himself later, but when he told me this, he seemed hesitant to sing.)
So I sang “Heartbreak Hotel,” and it was rather painless because that song is pretty easy to sing and I know all the words. So no problem. And afterward, everyone was all like, “Whoa! Good job! You have a good voice!” Haha, bull shit. But okay, I managed to not make a complete fool of myself.
And then I volunteered to sing the Doraemon theme song.
Me: “WAIT NO I TAKE IT BACK!”
Ito-sensei: [translated] “It’s okay, everyone will sing along, too.”
And they did. It was awesome.
Komatsu-sensei sang The Carpenters, and everyone was surprised that I didn’t know the song. I may know some older tunes, but I don’t know every song! And I am actually not very familiar with The Carpenters. :/ Sorry.
I can’t remember how it all got started, but at one point, I turned to the man from the PTA. He asked me why I came to Japan and why I was interested in Japan. I explained to him (as best I could) the same reasons that I tell everyone. They were also the reasons that I wrote about in my application essay and on my About page for this blog!
I also told him that I like Japanese films and anime. He asked what kind of films, and I listed a few, but when I mentioned Miyazaki films, he suddenly became very excited. He asked me if I had seen every Studio Ghibli film in existence, and I told him that I grew up watching My Neighbor Totoro and that my favorite has always been Kiki’s Delivery Service. We transitioned into talking about anime.
Me: “My favorite anime is Hagane no Renkinjutsushi, but recently, I’ve been watching Fairy Tail.” [Hagane no Renkinjutsushi = “Fullmetal Alchemist.”]
Man: “I LOVE FAIRY TAIL!”
We talked about Fairy Tail for a long time, and he asked if I watched it in America. I had some trouble explaining that I had not heard of it until I came to Japan, but luckily Komatsu-sensei had moved near us. I asked her to explain, and he was surprised. Fairy Tail is very popular in Japan right now, and I don’t think people in America watch it… yet.
He mentioned that he is Mirano’s father! Mirano is one of my speech contest students, and she’s doing really well. And then he explained how to write his name.
Man: “My name is Oshidari. Oshi is written with the kanji for ninja, and dari is written with the kanji for legs. So—I am Ninja-legs-san.”
Here is how you write it: 忍足
So I managed to have a whole conversation in Japanese! Not a total fail! It was pretty awesome. When I told Ebony about it later, she said that moments like that really help when you’re trying to learn Japanese. It built my confidence a little.
He got really excited about talking with me and seemed really impressed with me.
Ninja-legs-san: “Megan-san daisuki! Daisuki yo! Subarashii yo!” [“I really like you, Megan! You’re awesome!”]
The night was wrapping up, and like we planned, I took Daiko with Kawana-koucho. That conversation was a little more difficult for me, because he was saying some difficult things, but for the most part it was, “Where are you from?” and “Where do you live?” and he talked a little bit about one time when he got too drunk. Then, when the taxi driver stopped near my house, Kawana-koucho wouldn’t let me pay the Daiko fee, saying it was okay. It was so nice!
Cast of Characters
Itou-sensei as… a teacher at my school. I believe she teaches PE.
Kamada-sensei as… a JTE. She teaches English to the 1st years.
Kawana-koucho as… the former principal of Tomiura JHS. I got a ride with him at the end of the night.
Kawana-sensei as… a teacher at my JHS. It is totally slipping my mind what he teaches.
Komatsu-sensei as… a JTE. She teaches English to the 2nd and 3rd years.
Koucho-sensei as… “Koucho” means “principal,” so… you know, he’s the principal.
Kyoto-sensei as… “Kyoto” means “vice principal.”
Oshidari-san as… Ninja-legs-san! He is the father of one of my speech contest students. He likes anime. He told me that he has shelves of manga and anime for days. He told me to talk to Mirano about anime and manga. XD
Akagumi: “Red Team.”
Daiko: A taxi service that you can call when you are drunk and thus unable to drive your car home. Two people drive to your location. One drives you home in their taxi, and the other drives your car to your house at the same time. It’s convenient, but it’s expensive.
Enkai: A banquet or dinner party.
Kanpai: A toast, much like “cheers” or “opa!”
Shirogumi: “White Team.”
Snack: A Japanese hostess bar. According to Wiki: “A snack bar, or “snack” for short, refers to a kind of hostess bar, an alcohol-serving bar that employs female staff that are paid to serve and flirt with male customers. Although they do not charge an entry fee (and often have no set prices on their menus), they usually have an arbitrary (and expensive) bill or charge a set hourly fee plus a bottle charge.” But that wasn’t my experience.