Since I saw taiikusai practice a lot, some of the cheers are stuck in my head.  Such as when the Red Team girls said “It’s SHOW TIME!!!”


Taiikusai was this past Saturday.  It usually gets translated to “Sports Day Festival,” but as someone pointed out to me, that probably doesn’t really convey what this event is.  Taiikusai literally translates to “physical education festival,” and is perhaps a better way of putting it, given that there aren’t matches of the usual things one thinks of upon hearing “sports.”  Instead, it consists of PE stuff like relay races, tug of war, and tumbling (which is more about human pyramids than bouncing around like an acrobat, though there is an element of that), cheerleading (the girls do American style cheerleading and the boys do Japanese style support or rallying called ouen), and hitomoji (人文字, writing and drawing pictures by having lots of people hold up the appropriate colored boards in sync), among other things.

The students first marched onto the grounds divided into their teams, Red, Blue, and Yellow.  Teachers were also put into teams, but mostly for cheering and spotting purposes.  Myself and the other ALT were placed on the Red Team.  Everyone had the appropriate colored bandana.  The students saluted the principal with a Roman salute, then went to sit in their team’s bleachers.

Koi BB Small

Cosmos BB SmallLion BB Small

Then, there was relay, tug of war, tug of war racing (seeing who could get the most short ropes), and tumbling.

After the lunch break, each sports team* marched into the arena in their uniforms, saluted the principal as they marched by, and marched in place until it was time to sit down.  Don’t know if it’s like this in all Japanese schools, but there are no school colors here,** so each sports team picks whatever colors it wants for its uniform.  This school has teams for the usual stuff like soccer, baseball, softball, tennis, basketball, volleyball, kendo, archery, and track.  There are also rarer teams like the rifle team (not related to the military or police in any way) and boxing club.  Unfortunately, my batteries were running low, and I wanted to save them to record the ouen.

Then there was the girls’ dance.  It’s meant to be…”girly.”  It’s hard to describe.  (For City Year people: it’s kinda like a less militaristic, less exercise oriented cyzygy PT routine–although the Yellow Team did half a Flip Chart!)  Even though during practice they were using songs with lyrics, for the day-of most of the dancing was done to the instrumental tracks.  There were strange jumps from calm classical music, to epic-movie-battle pieces, to frenetic electric guitar tracks, to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and the Disney song “When You Wish Upon A Star.” @_@ I know the transitions were meant to represent something, and before each dance the dance leader said what it was about.  I heard stuff like “we wanted to celebrate family” and “we wanted to show the power of mothers.”  When I said to one teacher, “I don’t get the meaning of this,” he said (jokingly??) “don’t try to understand it, just feel it.” ^o^

Then, there were some relay races with a twist for the girls.  The teams split in half, standing across from each other in rows of four.  The front four ran while holding a long bamboo pole, but they had to circle about a cone at the halfway point, so the girl on the inside of the turn would have to slow done while the one on the outside had to speed up.  Sometimes the girl would be flung off the row!  Then, when they reached the other half of their team, the girls holding the pole ran it under the other girls’ feet, and those who didn’t time their jump right would fall on the pole.

One of the last events was the big one: the combination of hitomoji, cheerleading, and ouen.  First would be some hitomoji routines, then the cheer squads would come out, and some hitomoji was going on while they did their routine.  Then, after the wild music of the cheering, there would be the pounding of the taiko drum, and the boys’ ouen squads marched seriously forward.

Each ouen squad wore hakama and special jackets they’d painted themselves.  The ouen leader(s) had slightly different jackets.  This was the only event whose practice I didn’t see, so it was all a surprise.  A while ago I saw a movie called “Fure Fure Shoujo” which was about a girl who wanted to do ouen.  In that movie, the ouen was very militaristic and linear, and the students wore militaristic uniforms.***  But the ouen at my school was much more flowing, like tai chi sort of, and the students wore more traditional Japanese style costumes.

The Red Team had a point in their routine where they bent down, stealthily picked up a fistful of sand, and upon standing threw it out to alternating sides so it made a wide arc while having tough guy looks on their faces.  Everyone (myself included) ooh’ed at that one!  Then, the leaders went to the back, backs to the audience, and when they turned back around they were wearing oni (demon) masks!  I thought it was pretty cool, but another was of the mind that it was gimmicky. ^o^

Blue Team had the most beautifully decorated jackets.  They had a really cool point in their routine where they lined up and moved their arms slowly, giving the illusion of a windmill’s blades.  They were very well coordinated.  Yellow Team had a similar bit.  I liked the drumming for Yellow Team the best, it was very fast and rhythmic.

A point in Blue Team's ouen

A point in Blue Team’s ouen routine

Ultimately, Blue Team won the whole thing, for the third year in a row.  While I was cheering for Red, I have to admit that overall Blue did the best.  For each event it won, each team won a small trophy, and Blue Team got a huge cup for winning the whole thing.  It was a really fun day. ^_^

My next post may also be sports related, as I’m going to a Softbank Hawks (baseball) game with some other Fukuoka JETs this Saturday.

2013 Edits

*I originally had used the word “club” for what is more commonly called a “team” in American English, because Japanese had rubbed off on me. In Japanese schools, teams and clubs are nearly all marked by the suffix 部 (“bu”), usually translated as “club.” In the case of most sports, it’s not too strange to call those teams “clubs.” However, when talking about organizations that have some word in their names that means about the same thing as “club,” it gets redundant when translated back to English. For example, calling the brass band “brass band club,” or English Speaking Society “English Speaking Society Club.” I started seeing those mistakes being made in English by students, and it made me realize that they didn’t know the meaning of the words “band,” “society,” etc. Imagine my surprise to come back to this post and see myself calling the basketball team the “basketball club”! Ahaha…

**Now I know that Japanese schools, or at least the ones I worked at, do in fact have a designated school color. However, how that color gets used is still different from what I was used to as an American. It’s true that the school teams choose their own colors freely and independent of the other teams, whereas in the American system all of a school’s teams wear the school colors. Though I did get the impression at my second school that they were trying to make the school color a bigger part of the school’s brand.

***”Militaristic uniforms,” which I now know to be gakuran. My second school’s uniform consisted of gakuran for boys and blazers & skirts for girls. For the ouen, all save the 3 heads of the ouendan wore their gakuran with ribbons tied around their arms. The 3 captains wore hakama and jackets like the ouen squads of my first school, pictured above.