Noilly Prattle: Call Me Mr. B. – Twelve

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Twelve

Grade 4

Sports Festival

half time cheering event
     An event just shy of a sacred ritual takes place at our school every Spring in the month of May. It is known as UNDOKAI 「運動会」 in Japanese, which roughly translates as Sports Festival (or Field Day) in English. After a full month devoted to rehearsing for the big day it finally arrives with as little left to chance as possible.

synchronized dancing
        My first impression of the UNDOKAI opening ceremony was that of a military parade with martial music and banners flying in the breeze. It wasn't quite jackboot precision but still pretty impressive for kids from six to twelve years old. I could only think of the chaotic school yard activities of my elementary school in Kingston in the States and marvel at the order and precision that had been trained into these kids.

adoring parents capturing the memory
        As the big day approaches anxiety levels run pretty high among the staff. They worry about the weather since the festival is held near the start of the rainy season and the weather can be notoriously unpredictable. But mostly they worry about whether or not their students will put on a near-flawless performance and not shame them in front of their parents and other family members. Little or nothing is left to just spontaneous plain old fun. So, to me, after attending them year after a year they seemed to start to blur into a dreary sameness that only adoring parents could really get excited about.

tug-o-war - a great favorite
cooperative game - not as easy as it looks
        After the opening ceremony is finished, the rest of the day is for various sports and games activities as well as both synchronized and traditional Japanese dances and a big half-time razzle-dazzle cheering exhibition. The whole idea of this festival is to put great emphasis on the ideal of cooperative effort that has its wellsprings in the Japanese wet paddy rice culture. It may take a village to raise a child, but it certainly takes village cooperation to irrigate the paddies for wet rice growing. And so, even today as the rice paddies are being turned into parking lots (more profitable than growing rice nowadays), the spirit of cooperation remains a driving force in Japanese society. In that way, I think of UNDOKAI as a semi-sacred annual ritual.

the winner of the main event for each class level - the relay race

stick figure for the picture below
        Since the school and the parents invested so much capital into making a success of the Sports Festival, I incorporated a lesson for doing a Sports Festival picture as one of the Art class activities. Many students had a tendency to try to portray a sort of panoramic impression with ovals and stick figures running around the oval with little or nothing to capture and hold the eye. My goal in this lesson was simply to encourage the kids, by word and example pictures, to try and focus more on the human participants in an event and how their bodies actually move and look. I showed them how to make stick figures show different poses and then to flesh them out a bit to create an impression of motion, emotion and the nature of the event.


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