'Undokai': Behind the scenes of a Japanese primary school sport day

By Kirsty Kawano

The school sports day on Monday Oct 8, or undokai (運動会), is one of the biggest events on the calendar of a Japanese elementary school. More than a month of practice culminates in a full day of activities together as a school, with video camera-clutching parents looking on. From scheduling to lunch and what to do if you have younger children in tow, there are a lot of details for parents to stay on top of. Here’s the lowdown on what the event is all about, and some advice to help you and your family have a successful day.

What’s 'undokai' and why does it matter?

Like most special events in Japanese schools, undokai is a team effort held to teach children of the importance of working together, working hard, and competing for the whole team (and, of course, the school).

A typical elementary school sports day splits students into two teams — a red one and a white one — and has those teams compete in a range of races to see which one wins. Although this sounds competitive, the goals of the day are more about working together and doing one’s best. No individual prizes are given and cheering each other on is even scheduled into the program.

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Been to a few, the whole thing reminds me of a North Korean show. It's not really a Sports day more mass entertainment. Group activities day is a better description. My advice get under a tree with a chair, earplugs (don't worry you will still hear) and a book. There's the obligatory bento, must be a guide, as everyone's is the same. With two more grandchildren on the way...going to have to come up with an excuse not to attend.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Yeah my experiance of junior high sports days was kids marching in military synchronization whilst carrying flags, it made me feel very uncomfortable.

The military uses drill as a tool to condition soldiers into taking orders, why its practiced at Junior High Schools is beyond me, and a lot of the sporting events were more like gag events. It felt like to me it was just another way to indoctrinate values and behavious into students.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@szero25 it's not just Junior high school, they start the indoctrination earlier now, at elementary school and even nursery school... my kid started elementary school and ended up marching up and down with the other kids in school and screaming banzai....

ever wonder why they don't give individual prizes? because the individual means nothing's all about the group.

I find sports day pretty disgusting really, blatant indoctrination to group think. This is why so many Japanese cannot form an opinion, they have to rely on the consensus of the group and it all starts in the education system.. brainwash em early.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

been to a few, very scary and explains a lot about how the masses are literally brainwashed.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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