September 15th, 2007 – by: rsummo
Matt's school is located in Wazuka-cho, about 30 minutes drive from Nara. Its a small jr. high school, with only a couple hundred students.
When I was in elementary school, we had an event once a year called â€śfield dayâ€ť. It was a fun day; instead of the usual drudgery of classes and homework, we got to do things like run races and carry eggs in spoons. I wasnâ€™t very athletic back then, in fact I was a cubby fuck, and I always faced the day with mixed emotions. I was happy to not have class to deal with, but I dreaded finishing the day with only the embarrassing â€śparticipationâ€ť ribbon to show for it. Luckily there was always at least one event in which I could hold my own, usually the Frisbee throw or the sack race. The day was quite an event, but it was nowhere near as big a deal as it is in Japan.
In Japan, they day is called â€śSports Dayâ€ť, and it is rife with all kinds of preparation and pomp and circumstance. Shittily, the event is held on a Saturday, so unlike the US version, the kids do not get to enjoy a day off from dull classes. But to compensate, they do have a series of school days where they have some time off to practice things like their team dance routine and marching formations. This even was a required event for Matt, and I decided to tag along and see what it was all about. The cool thing about the Japanese version of this day is that rather splitting each event up to an individual competition, the school is split into two teams, a red team and a blue team, with a third team consisting of parents and teachers is thrown in to the mix for the hell of it.
The playing field. All dirt, no grass.
I was participating as a member of the PTA team, and I gave the kids no mercy. To demonstrate how seriously the Japanese took this day, the event began with each team marching on to the field led by a flag carrier. The teams came onto the field and were addressed by some important guy who would go back and forth between ordering the participants (including myself) to stand at order and to stand at ease, in a very militaristic fashion. This was the first time that I visited Mattâ€™s school, and the first time that I was meeting any of his students. Most of his students were very curious about me, and every single one of them was curious about my tattoo that stuck out just below my shirt sleeve. In Japan, having a tattoo pretty much identifies you as a criminal, which at times annoyed me greatly.
Matt tells each team that is his is rooting for the other team.
Seeing that the kids were extremely interested in the tattoo made me somewhat happy that they were not caught up in the typical dogma, but it also made me somewhat self-conscious to think of the disapproving adults who saw me showing off my naught ink to the kids. It would kinda be like showing a group of excited American kids the gunshot wounds that you got while robbing a bank; it would not make parents happy. I later learned that my self-consciousness was warranted, when I returned to the school a week later to give a presentation and was kindly asked to no longer show off my tattoo when asked, and to keep it completely covered at all times. For Mattâ€™s sake I wanted to not offend anyone, so I complied, albeit while harboring the same kind of irritation I harbor towards anyone who is uptight for irrational reasons. But being irritated is not what this day was about; this day was about kicking the shit out of children at various athletic events, in revenge for when I was young and weak.
The blue team and the red team take the field.
And that is exactly what I did. There were some events in which there was absolutely no chance for the kids to win, it was almost comical. One such event was the tug of war, which the PTA team won soundly. Another was some event Iâ€™ll call the â€ślog pullâ€ť, where each team lines up on opposite ends of the field and runs to the center to drag as many logs back to their side as they can. Itâ€™s like a whole series of mini-tug of wars with a little of strategy mixed in â€“ do you spend your time battling for one specific log or do you let one log go in hopes that you can gather a bigger force up at other logs? Each team played the other teams twice, so after the first round you have an idea of how the other team is going to work, and you can adjust your strategy accordingly.
The red team flag carrier.
PTA won this event very easily, but there was a moment I quite enjoyed where a whole group of kids purposely lined up across from me so they could take out the gaijin. I ran out and grabbed hold of the log, four of them took the other side and we began to battle. I knew this was a losing battle, bit I figured that if I could hold them off long enough, the other logs would be easy for PTA to take, so my loss would be a sacrifice for the greater good. I dug in, and goddamn if those kids couldnâ€™t move that log. I sure the hell couldnâ€™t move it towards my end, but I put up a hell of a fight, and had the bloody knees to prove it. I got the sense that they appreciated my competition, and I was glad that we didnâ€™t have to involve any small yellow and black striped creatures that shoot lightning and squeal gibberish in a high pitched voice.
Team Jump-rope. The PTA team sucked at this event.
For some inexplicable reason, every time I participated in an event, I was given a box of Kleenex. I finished the day with like 6 goddamn boxes of Kleenex. Matt also ended up with a healthy amount of Kleenex, and now that I think about it, the giving of Kleenex seems to be ubiquitous in Japan. When you walk around the city, strangers will hand you small packs of Kleenex that advertise a phone plan, or a sex line. I consider Kleenex a useful product, as opposed to the stupid flyers that are handed out every 10 feet in Vegas, so I applauded the Japanese for at least making their advertising beneficial to the viewer, but after a while, I thought to myself â€śwhat the hell am I going to do with all these fucking Kleenex?â€ť It wasnâ€™t really an issue, I just left them all at Mattâ€™s house.
Teams lining up for the "long stick" relay.
So the Kleenex were sort of like my participation ribbon, only I could use them to blow my nose or clean up my bloody knees, and they didnâ€™t make me feel shameful. What did make me feel shameful was the few events where the PTA team got trounced by some goddamn 7th graders. Though we could kick ass at strength events like the tug of war, we got our asses handed to us in any event that included running. The races were all relays, so we were only as strong as our weakest link, and pretty much all of the other PTAâ€™ers were way less competitive than I. And I couldnâ€™t speak the necessary Japanese words to rally them up for victory, so I was completely at their mercy. Well we sucked and came in last at almost every other event, and I think the PTA team ended up in last place, which is way way more shameful than me having a tattoo on my arm.
The "throw as many balls into the basket as you can in 1 minute" event.
But, what could I do? I felt good about my individual contributions. One thing I noticed during this day was that Japanese kids are much more durable and adventurous than American Children. There were many injuries this day, ranging from scrapes and bruises to full on sprains. I could just see this event going on the exact same way in the US, and parents lined up outside the school with their attorneys ready to sue the school because little jimmy bob got hurt while participating in a sport. Instead of reaching for their attorneys, the Japanese parents told their kids to suck it up and get on with their lives, which worked like a charm. The kids all appeared to have a good time; the individuals that were athletic were allowed to excel and were appreciated by their teammates, and the kids that were fat turds were able to blend in with the group events well enough to not face ridicule from their classmates.
The improvised basketball rally race.
I liked the format greatly. The other highlight of this day was that I finally got to meet Lusty Teacher, Mattâ€™s modest yet incredibly good-looking co-worker. She was indeed very easy on the eyes, and I could see why she drives Matt crazy on a daily basis. She is the English teacher at the school, and she contributes to my theory that the most attractive teachers are foreign language teachers. I remember in my Junior high days, my first Spanish teacher was this Italian lady who was damn good looking, and my second Spanish teacher was this good looking younger teacher who was dating my social studies teacher, who was probably a cool guy but from my younger perspective was a total stiff. My friendâ€™s wife is an English-as-a-second-language teacher, and Iâ€™m sure her students think she is the faculty hottie.
The plank walk race.
My theory is that people interested in languages and other cultures are generally more exciting and adventurous than the general population, and therefore have more attractive personalities, and come off as more attractive. I donâ€™t know if that is true or not, but Iâ€™ll go with it for now. After the last event, there was an awarding of the trophy ceremony, and then we all had to pack up the crap used throughout the day and put it in storage. An anti-climactic end to the day, but Matt and I were motivated to get this shit done quickly because the sooner we got out of there the sooner we could get to the International Party being hosted in Osaka that evening. I needed a shower badly, so we got the hell out of there and proceeded to transition to the next part of our day, the impending all night denim party.
Me and the rest of the PTA tug-of-war team.
More on that laterâ€¦
It hardly seems fair, fully grown adults vs. 13 year olds. We crushed them every time.