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Teamwork or torture? Japan's bone-breaking school gymnastics

48 Comments
By Kyoko Hasegawa

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Kumi taiso, all the kids with the same clothes, all the baseball groups with shaven headed kids, nails sticking out getting hammered on a daily basis... this group mentality was so beautiful to see when we lived abroad, the reality is different... many kids getting psychological torture on a daily basis by yelling abusive coaches.. If I only knew better this place before choosing it to live in...

18 ( +23 / -5 )

I used to love gymnastics in school - especially the "vaulting-horse" - however, we never did anything quite that stupid...

7 ( +9 / -2 )

There are other safe ways to be impressive in gymnastics without building towers of children. This is the only country I know of that performs this dangerous practice.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

I'm not sure what the best translation is for "kumitaiso," because it is not really gymnastics. If you want to see what kumitaiso (組体操) is all about, here are a number of photos of it: https://goo.gl/Ymryyc

Also, keep in mind that these stunts are often practiced for days on end and performed under very hot/humid temperatures on dusty dirt grounds with no grass. Pure torture, even for the spectators.

13 ( +15 / -2 )

You know what just drives me nuts about this? Here are a few things kids can't do in Tomakomai because they are "dangerous." 1.) Play by (not in) a lake, river or pond. 2.) Walk to a store after 4:00pm. 3.) Go outside of the house during a "gakyuheisa" (school closing because of illness). 4.) Use umbrellas on rainy days. Yet, it's perfectly OK to take part in an event that can--and does---crush and kill students. Since teachers think it's so important to be competitive and bond (kizuna), let's see the teachers demonstrate with members of the local board of education.

19 ( +22 / -3 )

Sports Day itself is torture. It is totally useless.

15 ( +17 / -3 )

My son, 36 years old, still nursing sport injuries from being kicked by spiked soccer shoes expensively bought by all as ruled by whatshisname soccer teacher in Kanegasaku Junior HIgh.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

This absurd sports seems more dangerous for kids than American Football in high schools in America. Both should be banned.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Holy cow, this needs to be banned like it is in most 1st world countries for schools.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

This correct answer is very difficulut for me.

Actually when I was elementary school student, I have done school gymnastics some times. Of course we understand the difficulty and the danger but that was lesson in physical education.

It may be necessary for learning teamwork but all teachers must be careful and take care of them without accidents.

But we may learn teamwork by other lessons as well....

Responsibility should be school and teachers.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

This is done, largely, I think, for the ego teachers.

Group bonding could just as easily be accomplished through dance, song, or even other forms of gymnastics.

Do a simple google search on music and bonding. Surely there are better methods available.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

i've never heard it referred to as "gymnastics" before. It's just the annual "sports" festival.

and btw, this beats "chinese water torture" or "waterboarding" by a long mile. if you want to get a terrorist to talk, take them to one of these events. i took my daughter and son when they were 8-month-old and it's just ridiculous. i involved me carrying them around and bouncing them on my leg while singing some japanese nursery rhyme. pure torture!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Sports Day itself is torture. It is totally useless. yeah other than the running events how does Japanese sports day develop future Olympic athletes. when we had Athletics competitions we had nearly all the Olympic disciplines, shotput discus javelin, sprinting, long distance, relays track events etc. J sports day is more about video/photo op for parents than actually developing J athletes

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Any education board that allows kumitaiso to continue, risking further accidents, is negligent and failing in its duty to protect children.

Meanwhile, the jukus are full of children learning the things the schools should be teaching them.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

I remember that the bond among my classmates got much stronger after we succeeded in making 'pyramids', and I sort of liked it. However, it is obviously very dangerous, so they've got to come up with another idea to create bond among students.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

How does this teach teamwork? There is no real working as a team. No decision making, no thought process of how to divide labor or contribute to each other. Someone in a position of power just assigns you to a potentially painful posture and you just have to endure it no matter how much weight get thrown on you because everyone is afraid of being the weak link that disrupts everyone else and prevents the team from completing the pose that accomplishes exactly nothing but which looks very pleasing to the person in the position of power.

Never mind, I answered my own question. This teaches exactly who to survive a Japanese workplace.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Exactly like North Korea and China. These exhibitions are put on for the egos of leaders. In Japan's case, school principals who pine back to the days when the military ruled Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How does this teach teamwork?

Teaching the principle "to be on the top, you need to step on and crush people below you" I presume. Why don't they wear, at least, some protective gears if they are forced to do such of dangerous stunt, like ...helmet ? Oh yes, stupid I am, that would be too much common sense. Also, why can't association of parents fight this altogether ?

3 ( +6 / -2 )

@katsu78APR. 18, 2016 - 10:55AM JST

How does this teach teamwork?

Your criticisms can be levered at such things as group dances too, you know. Your position is assigned as are all your motions. If the planned moves are of sufficiently high difficulty they could be painful or cause injury. And if the kids don't feel some internal pride in the accomplishment, all it does is also look pretty to the person in power.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

It's not gymnastics, it's human towers and human pyramids, which are built as a spectacle for watching parents and grandparents. For that reason, they come with the pressure to make them higher and outdo the other school down the road. There are lots of alternatives if fostering "teamwork" were so important. I don't see any businesses out there offering human pyramid lessons for corporate bonding.

My daughter goes to a sports club, but thankfully not in a well-established sport. Baseball and sumo for boys, volleyball and ballet for girls seem to be the activities where "Sparta" thinking (authoritarianism, basically a by-word for coaches smacking the kids), is most ingrained. Depending on the school, you can get it in regular sports lessons too.

Samwatters: stuff like that drives me up the wall, especially gakkyu heisa. You would never get it in a country that respects working women.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Kazuaki ShimazakiAPR. 18, 2016 - 11:44AM JST Your criticisms can be levered at such things as group dances too, you know.

I'd say the truth of that depends on the quality of the dancing, because dancing is at least dynamic and so requires spontaneous decisions making. But that said, I'm not sure why you brought this up as a rebuttal, as I've never claimed group dances are better at teaching teamwork. Another activity being almost as bad as kumitaiso doesn't magically make kumitaiso less bad.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

This is the only country I know of that performs this dangerous practice.

Many festivals in Spain (mostly in Catalonia I think) also have human pyramids with kids often topping the pyramid. Never been a fan.

Am all for kids exercising at school (healthy body & mind and all) but this imo isn't 'sports', plus it's unnecessarily dangerous. Any team sports would be better. Keep the 'team building' shite for adult life should they choose to work for companies who still think their staff should take part in such activities.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

8,000 injuries to children? A year ? That is absolutely obscene. If they can`t enforce a blanket ban on this type of obviously dangerous activity then I suggest they should start imposing criminal liability against teachers whose students are injured while under their supervision (as a result of either doing something too dangerous or a lack of adequate safety precautions).

If the notion of children under their care being injured or even killed isn`t enough to motivate them, perhaps the desire to keep their own selves out of prison will.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

I have participated in a few of these sports days and have done some of the "gymastics" even while pregnant. I enjoyed watching the students work together in their teams to do small formations. Some kids got injured doing something simple like handstands but nothing too serious. Others suffered from heat exhaustion because of the timing of the festival. However, the massive towers that students made were definitly dangerous and not needed. I think that sports days should continue but there should be strict restrictions on sizes of the towers.

For those who say that sports day isn't creating future athletes, you are misinformed about the event. CLubs are where atheltes are made. Sports day is a day to get everyone out and being active for the benifit of the group. It is a long day with usually each student only doing one or two events but it allows them to take a much needed study break and to make memories that will last. Those experiences are just as valubale in my opinion.

-5 ( +5 / -10 )

what madness is this now?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

surly there is a better way to get these kids to "Bond" what about an obstacle course where a coupe of 4-5 children. the course can be tailor made so that the children run, climb, swing, balance, on obstacles that require two children to achieve the goal. this can be set out for two opposing team challenge each other. the obstacle course can be made harder or easier depending on the children ages, I am not a PE teacher but even I can think of something like this so quickly why can't the Japanese PE teachers do the same? It can be made to challenge mental and physically, encourage team work.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm pretty sure the entire day is a time for kids to bond with each other. I remember having track meets in my elementary school, and I bonded just fine with others in my class as we looked to get first place.

As an alternative, how about the group jump roping, where children go in a figure 8 loop to see how many kids can make the jump in 2 minutes (pretty sure I've seen a video on this somewhere). Plenty of teamwork and bonding in that, without the risk of crushed ribs and broken arms.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

zurcronium, sports day is worse than useless and beyond torture. Kids spend weeks and weeks in training for this stupid, boring event, then they all troop off to juku to learn what they might have learned at school if only the school had an educational function. Kids drop with heat exhaustion and risk serious injury for the amusement of their parents and grand parents, who have just this one chance a year to show off their latest tech, and for the egos of their teachers. Sports day encompasses everything that is wrong with the country in about 8 stunningly boring hours.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

How exactly standing on top of each other is classified as sports? By same logic, SM clubs should be treated as sport facilities... How about achieving real sport excellence... insteads of practicing mindless "teamwork"

1 ( +3 / -2 )

the physical education curriculum to encourage teamwork and endurance.

No it just encourages to become intellectually limited. They should better teach their kids to be more curious, to have a critical spirit, to be open minded and intellectually free. This is what kids should learn at school, not making silly human pyramids, which is an excuse to hide military-like education behind moreover a dangerous activity.

On top of that, this has nothing to do with sports or gymnastics. Sports is used to make kids and adults bodies healthier. The idea is not to use sport to destroy people's body, particular the fragile one of our children.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

My daughter is not yet in school but I worry about things like this. Will she be required to participate in these things? I googled the pyramids and there is no way I would voluntarily let my kid do that. Sports day, fine, although the fact it's done when it's miserably hot is downright stupid... but piling upon one another doesn't have anything to do with sport and it's unnecessarily dangerous.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

My son is 33. When he was in elementary school, the pyramids were three levels, not anything like 10. With schools having guests come from other school districts, and the photos being shared, it must have escalated over the past few years. It's just insane.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Is there a price some people won't pay to prove they are a superior people ?

2 ( +4 / -2 )

There have been nine deaths linked to “kumitaiso” since 1969, when JSC records for school sports injuries began

So.... one death every 4 years or so in the whole country. I wonder what the statistics are for sooner/ football.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I heard a funny story about this. At one elementary school, there was a great deal of competition to be the kid at the top of the pyramid. The lightest child was always chosen for this task, and students were required to report their weights. One year the pyramid kept collapsing and no-one could figure out the reason why. Eventually it was discovered that "the top kid" had lied about his weight, under-reporting it by several kilos. After that incident, the school took measures to properly check the weights of the students.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Sorry, that should have been "soccer/football."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So.... one death every 4 years or so in the whole country.

Isn't that too many for a poxy bit of formation gymnastics? They're schoolchildren, not circus performers, so there isn't really an acceptable rate of death or serious injury that we can all agree is "about right".

There's also an issue of individuals paying a very high price for a collectively imposed risk. It's difficult not to view this

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/i1W2ymLAP7c/maxresdefault.jpg

as a monumentally shitty idea.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Isn't that too many for a poxy bit of formation gymnastics?

Well, of course, even one death is too many, but kids do have accidents playing sports of all kinds. The question is whether the injuries from this kind of sport are comparatively high when compared with other sports, whether or not the sport is one you like. I do think the height of the formations is a contributing factor, and that it should be adjusted down. Of course, PE is no longer required in the USA. From the number of overweight, out-of-shape kids, that is not without health risk either.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Probably the reason why 'human pyramid' isn't in the Olympics.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

FarmboyAPR. 18, 2016 - 10:57PM JST Well, of course, even one death is too many, but kids do have accidents playing sports of all kinds. The question is whether the injuries from this kind of sport are comparatively high when compared with other sports, whether or not the sport is one you like

There is a pretty huge difference between kids having accidents doing the sports that they enjoy and choose voluntarily to do without influence by teachers, and kids having accidents doing an activity (because let's be honest, it's not even a sport. Aside from its endurance demands just how much athletic prowess do these formations demand?) because the teacher told them to do it in order to make their school look impressive compared to a neighboring school.

Kids are going to have accidents. We shouldn't pretend we can eliminate those. But that doesn't mean we can demand they do activities with a high likelihood of serious accidents, especially when those activities have no good reason to be done in the first place.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

This absurd sports seems more dangerous for kids than American Football in high schools in America. Both should be banned.

Full agreement from me.

My daughter goes to a sports club, but thankfully not in a well-established sport. Baseball and sumo for boys, volleyball and ballet for girls seem to be the activities where "Sparta" thinking (authoritarianism, basically a by-word for coaches smacking the kids), is most ingrained. Depending on the school, you can get it in regular sports lessons too.

True in the past, uncommon now except among certain high schools. When my oldest wanted to do baseball, I was reluctant because of the bad reputation baseball has. My wife checked things out. It is much more laid back now. In fact, two of the "guys" on his team were girls. Girls on teams below the middle school level are no longer noteworthy. There were also girls on the soccer team my younger son played with.

Many festivals in Spain (mostly in Catalonia I think) also have human pyramids with kids often topping the pyramid. Never been a fan.

Guess Spain is not a "1st class country" at least as defined in this venue.

Well, of course, even one death is too many, but kids do have accidents playing sports of all kinds. The question is whether the injuries from this kind of sport are comparatively high when compared with other sports, whether or not the sport is one you like. I do think the height of the formations is a contributing factor, and that it should be adjusted down. Of course, PE is no longer required in the USA. From the number of overweight, out-of-shape kids, that is not without health risk either.

I trust you know that rational argument is frowned upon in this venue.

For the record: I personally oppose the pyramids and think they should be banned. I find the sports days torture but most kids and most parents seem to like them.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Meanwhile, the jukus are full of children learning the things the schools should be teaching them.

This is so true. They should be teaching at the school, and letting kids play what they want outside of school, instead of having to go to juku to make up for what they didn't learn while they were getting their bones crushed.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Ah.... Japanese Education. The worlds greatest contradiction of terms. Bring back the Human Cannonball I say.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

This idea of 'bonding' is definitely a positive thing but must be presented by those who are totally focused and experienced in delivering an experience that is absolutely safe. I think it is not reasonable to expect a local school teacher, who is hired to teach academic subjects, to also be a professional 'adventure/bonding/whatever' instructor and leader. This kind of behavior should be left to professionals to administer.

This is kind of like letting my home/ec teacher manage the gun target range for high school kids. It's simply not appropriate, not to mention stupid and dangerous.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

because let's be honest, it's not even a sport

I'm not sure what definition of sport you are using, but here is one that is often used:

sport spôrt/ noun noun: sport; plural noun: sports

1. an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.
1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Wipeout, I can see what the people pyramid looks like now, looking at the pic I can see where some kids hands are placed on lower backs/spines, Oh my G.. I can see that some Kids could end up with back problems, especially if all of the people collapse on top, poor sod at the bottom of the pile!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I can see what the people pyramid looks like now, looking at the pic I can see where some kids hands are placed on lower backs/spines.

Quite.

Not that I have a great love for any sport - that's just me - but there really is a gaping moral difference between this kind of activity, which as practised is both risky and compulsory, and having kids play soccer, which, like much in life, can never be completely risk free.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

(Sato chan) Sir can I bee excused today as Ive ate something last night, and shall we say I have brown rain? NO! get in there and stop complaining! But sir! Get on with it Sato Chan 10 minutes latter, Sir? I need to go ( on the 4th row in the middle) stand still Sato chan. (15 children), Sir! we all need a shower...Now!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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