Noilly Prattle: 一緒 - ISSHO - “togetherness”

Sunday, May 20, 2012

一緒 - ISSHO - “togetherness”

school athletic field
main school buildings
Japan is something of a hive society. The concept of individuality is more or less alien to the traditional Japanese spirit; the concept of social harmony is the driving force. To that end, children are conditioned to work together and cooperate to a degree unprecedented and incomprehensible to the western notion of individuality. There is a saying in Japan that tells what will happen if an individual stands out--"the nail that sticks up gets hammered down". As a westerner teaching in a Japanese elementary school for almost 20 years I have always had mixed feelings about this emphasis on discouraging the individual to stand out from the crowd and be a star.

1st Graders entering the field
for a little dance performance
relay race
An enormously important element of the educational system for encouraging group behavior is the annual semi-sacred “sports festival”-- 運動会 - UNDOKAI in Japanese. This is not an occasion for spontaneous fun and physical exertion as a field day in an American school might be. Not on your life! A whole month of the school term is devoted to practice and rehearsal of the events to be included in the days activities. Everything must be perfectly coordinated and timed! TIME is de rigeur. Rehearsals are timed with a stopwatch to ensure that everything runs like clockwork.

picnic tarpaulins
synchronized dance with pom-poms
Then, the big day comes with banners flying and tents erected. It is day for family togetherness. Picnic tarpaulins are laid out amid the school buildings and surrounding the athletic field. Parents have their digital cameras and video cameras at the ready. Then the “opening ceremony” with students passing in review as in a military parade, flags raised, anthem sung, speeches by invited dignitaries from the local government made and, then, and only then, do the various sporting events take place to lively musical accompaniment from classical--William Tell Overture--to martial music and everything in between.

me with former students --
now 5th Graders
As an alumnus teacher, I was invited to attend this years UNDOKAI as an honored guest. I went yesterday, brought my camera and took a few pictures to give you a glimpse of what the “sports festival” in Japan, or at my old school anyway, looks like.

doting moms--covered from head to
toe for protections from the
dreaded sun--not for fear of skin
cancer, but to keep skin white
not as easy as it looks--two kids have to
coordinate to keep the ball in the wheelbarrow

variation of a sack race with double wide short pants

a little overweight huffing and puffing

alley oop -- togetherness, they start 'em young

more doting moms and a dad

pre schooler prospective enrollees--
encouraged and helped by parents to participate
in a mini-event

school courtyard with coffee and
drink concession by PTA

human pyramid--the ultimate in cooperation and mutual trust--
the brave fellow on top is, of course, the smallest boy in the class

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

loved it