Undoukai renshuu is something every ALT in Japan dreads.

“Hannah sensei. Todays classes are… cut.” Red pen over my schedule. “Undoukai renshuu.”


Undoukai, or sports day, is one of the big events in the school calendar, along with graduation, opening ceremony and the cultural festival. The whole school takes it very, very seriously and practice, or renshuu, begins over a month beforehand.

All credit to the kids; they practice before school, during school and after school to get everything just perfect. Unfortunately for me, English is one of the first classes to get cut to make way for undoukai renshuu, so I spent more than one period sitting in the English classroom waiting for a class to show up, before realising that they were on the field practicing their ball toss.

It’s fair to say that in the final week before undoukai, the school was in a state of mild chaos. The teachers were running around like headless chickens, the students were exhausted, I was bored and irate and, while the rest of the school was being furiously scrubbed and swept, the English classroom was gathering dust.

It wasn’t all bad; I got to spend one whole day sitting by the ground in the sun watching the kids practice, and I got a lot of study done, but I was pretty glad when the big day dawned sunny and warm and the kids finally got to show off.

In some ways, undoukai is a lot like sports day at high school. Year groups were split into teams (red, blue and yellow), everyone ran a hundred metre sprint and at least one person dropped a baton during the relays.

In some ways, however, undoukai was a very different ball game. The first and second graders play a game which involves them massing around a basket on a tall stick hiffing hackey sacks in as fast as they can. The eighth graders tried to grab hats off other students’ heads while sitting on each other’s shoulders. The whole school raced to see which team could move a GIANT Swiss ball across the whole field fastest. Every year group did a dance or acrobatic performance to music and, very impressively, not a single student fell off the human pyramids.

I was thoroughly impressed by the whole event, including, I must say, my own rather flailing participation in the relay. After all their effort, the kids deserved all the fun and excitement that the day produced.

But I look forward to having some lessons again.


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