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School Events

The school year is peppered with interesting and exciting events. From the first day of school to graduation, the Japanese are big believers in school unity and set a standard to ceremony.

The first event of the year, which is also the only thing that happens the first day of school, is the opening ceremony. On the first day, the students meet their new teachers, new teachers are introduced to the entire assembly, and several very long speeches are made. Not a very exciting event, but usually one to dress up for, as the JET usually makes a speech, too! A nervewracking experience, with sometimes a thousand students, the entire faculty and parents looking on.
Students try to stay awake
during a long ceremony.

Yes, the Japanese put a lot of stock in ceremony and proceedure. Every day after the opening ceremony there is a "morning meeting" in the teachers' room. During these meetings, the teachers collectively greet the principal of the school and he says a few words to the teachers. This is also where the teachers discuss any big problems the school faces and depending on the school, classes could be delayed by an overtime morning meeting. At most schools, the JET is expected to attend the morning meetings, so if you're a prospective JET, plan on going to a lot of meetings!

Probably the next big event to occur would be the bunkasai, or "culture day". Students prepare for this day weeks in advance. During the bunkasai, handcrafts are displayed, musical talents are showcased, and a play is staged in the auditorium. It's an open house as well and parents are welcomed into the school to see the students work and skill. Each class decorates their classroom with a particular theme in mind, and a prize goes out to the class with the best and most creative decorations. Sometimes the school will contract out for a big act; one year a school of mine hired a touring Peruvian band to perform for the students and parents. It's an enormous amount of work for the teachers and the students, but when it all comes off well in the end it is time well spent.

An event that I got involved with every year was the annual English Recitation Contest. If any of you JETs have a contest like this in your city, town or prefecture, I highly recommend getting involved. In my city, the few top winners of the contest get an all expense paid trip for a week to somewhere in the United States! At one or more of my schools I would coach that year's entrants. At left is a photo of some of my students, teachers, and myself after Mariko (third from left) placed second in the contest for that year.

One thing that JETs always watch with fascination and stark disbelief is the calisthenics routine the entire school (students and teachers) peform before any school activity. The students arrange themselves neatly outside on the field with the teachers lined up in front of them and one of the teachers begins the tape. The recording sounds like it is about fifty years old and is a bizzare mix of manly yelps and elevator music. The entire school twists and rotates in time with the music without complaint or stopping to think how absurd this all must look to the foreigner. These exercises alone would never get someone into shape; they are only meant to be a route activity which the entire school participates in. A very light-weight bonding experience and a mental cue to prepare them for the day ahead.
Here, the principal leads the morning calisthenics before "Sports Day" begins

"Sports Day" or "Sports Festival" is anothe day that they students and teachers spend quite a bit of time preparing for. This may be held at the school or they may go to a sports arena or track to hold the event. It is held over two days, a practice and the actual festival. On Sports Day, there are ALL kinds of sporting activities. Pole vaulting, shotput, relay races, ... all the big ones. And there are a few that I never saw before. There was one activity I saw that looked like just a mad dash for colored bouncing balls. Another activity I saw looked like shotput, but instead of a small, metal ball, it was a giant whiffle-ball. A routine sports day activity at my friends school involved attempting to climb up a long pole while other students tried to pull you to the ground. Chaotic, crazy, or typical, they're all good, clean (mostly) fun!

Tug o' War on "Sports Day"

A popular event for the teachers is an enkai. An enkai literally means "drinking party". Most of the teachers will get together and go to a restaraunt. Everyone pulls numbers out of a hat and sits according to that number. Everyone eats and drinks all they can and let me tell you, sometimes they really let their hair down!
At an enkai where I am the guest of honor


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