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Goin’ Japanesque!

Undokai (Field Day): Looks Like the Olympics but Just a School Event

As we enter into September and summer comes to an end, an annual event at Japanese schools are beginning. It’s called ‘undokai’ (field day). ‘Undokai’ are held in other countries too but, in Japan, the educational objective is about stressing working as a team, rather than individual competitions. You’re fighting for a team win—not an individual win. This educational plan may be what’s behind Japan’s national character. Below, we’ll be introducing the common sports in a Japanese undokai. Perhaps you’ll find something different about them?



Opening Ceremonies


For a first-timer, Japanese undokai look a lot like the Olympics with everyone walking out in neat lines. This is “tamaire” (ball-toss), where the colored hats separate everyone into teams.


Odamakorogashi (Giant Ball Rolling)


Several people roll the oodama (giant ball) for dozens of meters around cones and turn back. Then they switch with a teammate. It’s a competition of speed.


Botaoshi (Pole-Toppling)


A simple competition of bringing down the opposing team’s pole. However, it requires battle-fighting strategy. It’s considered the main competition in an undokai where teammates are split into offensive and defensive positions. Everyone is trying hard so it’s very exciting.


Caterpillar Race


You enter a tank’s caterpillar-like wheel made from cardboard and quickly crawl forward. Moms join in too. It’s a lot harder than it looks!


Odama Okuri


It’s similar to Odamakorogashi but this is a game about keeping the ball up over your heads and not touching the ground. Sometimes you never get a chance to touch the ball, which is pretty sad.


Mukade Kyoso (Centipede Race)


As the name implies, for this game you tie your legs in a line and transform into a running centipede. If you can’t get in sync then you’re moving nowhere. It’s pretty hard.


Kibasen (Cavalry Battle)


You ride on top of people acting as horses and fight like they did in the warring Sengoku period. If they take your hat or you fall then you lose. The boys who show themselves to be strong here become popular.



It’s not just about the competition. At an undokai, the team support is a big draw too. Many of the popular kids in school do the cheerleading.



Also, moms make the bento early in the morning. Normally at lunch time everyone will eat as a family the bento that mom’s prepared. It’s not just the kids who participate in the undokai—it’s parents too. By the way, the dads will cheer at the competitions they attend.
Related: – Delicious Bento Tips from Japanese Connoisseurs – Don’t Settle for Conbini!

And an undokai doesn’t just happen on the day of the event. Several hours of class time are spent practicing for the opening and the competitions. Now is the time when everyone is practicing for their undokai every day. Undokai are a big event for Japanese people. It’s been a tradition since long ago to set off a big sound along with fireworks around 5-6:00AM on the appointed day since the event may be postponed for rain. Kids start the preparations upon hearing the sound and everyone suddenly gets into high spirits.

Bunkasai; high school’s major event!
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