This weekend we experienced a Japanese School Olympics for the first time and I must say that it has been a long time since I enjoyed myself so much. When we first got the invite from my son’s school to attend the function, we thought that it might be just another sports competition. The first indication that I had that our thoughts were wrong was the general excitement in the school about the School Olympics. To top it there were some serious discussions going on in my office where some of my colleagues were upset because their kids could not make it to the teams. Well, the day finally arrived.
We are lucky that we can see the school from our house balcony, so we can monitor all activities going on from the comfort of our house. At 5:00 a.m. in the morning, some crackers were burst in the school ground to indicate the School Olympics day. By 6:00 a.m., almost the whole school staff had entered the ground and were putting up the boundaries, tracks, places for parents to sit, setting up the scorecard and putting up the dais Around 6:30 a.m. the first parents started to trickle in to capture prime real estate to sit and watch their kids from. These parents came with tents, mats, picnic baskets. All in all a carnival atmosphere. Mind you, the school had us all invited only at 8:00 a.m., so this was actually like a queue before a cricket match begins!! Anyhow, we made to the grounds around 7:30 a.m. and managed to still find a nice location in the front seats from where we could watch the kids.
The event started bang on 8:00 a.m. with the kids starting to assemble. They were segregated into two teams, the Red team and the White team. Like the Olympics, it began with a march past of both the teams and then assembling before the Principal of the school. Then the Japanese Flag was raised and both teams took the Olympic Oath of competing fairly. Then the Japanese custom of morning exercise was followed. What was interesting to see was that all the staff members and even the guests including the chief guest did the morning exercise dutifully to the sound of the music. BTW, this is one of the traditional set of exercises done in Japan and is also the one that is played in my office every morning at 8:15 a.m., which a lot my colleagues do even now. After this the kids assembled in their respective camps ready for the events.
The athletics event started with running race for kids. As they were announcing the winners, I felt something unfamiliar. It took me some time to understand it, but then I realized that they were not announcing the name of the winners. The only thing was whether red won or white won. No names, no individuals, just teams. So it was first place to red, second place to white and third place to red. It stuck me as such a big contrast to what we have in India where individuals are more important than the team. And in event after event here I witnessed the sense of team being built into the kids and the individuality and ego slowly drained out in a happy and jolly way. Also, the events were structured in a manner that no one race would decide the winner, but a set of races would constitute a event. For each of the top three positions, some points are doled out. At the end of all the races, the total of the red and white is done and then the event is awarded to the team that scored more points. So it is immaterial whether you won your race or not, what matters is whether your team won. If so, you go and celebrate with them if not you go back empty handed.
Also, worth mentioning is the award ceremony at the end of each event. The Principal of the School stands on the podium with two flags (red and white) and depending on who won the event, lifts that flag. One representative from the runs forward and bows to the principal and collects the flag for his team. Generally this representative is one of the youngest member of the group, chosen randomly and represents the team. Another way to emphasize that the most experienced should not hog the limelight and the fantastic thing is that this education begins at the start of their educational life. For too long, I have felt that this happens to be one serious drawback of our schooling system as of now, not too much importance to team work and that shows up in all aspects of our life as we move forward. Here, I could actually see my thoughts in action and that was a really overwhelming feeling for me.
Anyhow the races were followed by a whole lot of group games and some involved parents as well. It was heartening to see that the parents were also trying their level best to ensure that their kids teams got as many points as they could and were participating with vigour. Quite a few parents had to bite the dust literally but got up to finish the race or the event they participated and it was all in good fun.
As far as the actual scoring was going on, the whites dominated the first part of the event. At one stage with 11 events to go, reds had to win 8 events to end up winners. But then they roared back winning the next 6 events on the trot. The scene looked like the last few laps of the cycle race in “Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar” with cheerleaders, parents and teachers all pushing and cheering their sides. Whites won the next event. So it was a dead heat for the last 4 events, but then eventually the reds were red hot and managed to win 3 off the last 4 events to end up winners 830 to 760 on the final tally. Yours truly and my son played our part in the red hot streak as well.
In between the events, there were dance programs of kids from all standards and it was very well choreographed and the kids were both enjoying it and doing the steps well. Around 12:00 p.m. the events stopped and the families were requested to have lunch with their kids. Each family had packed it’s own food and it was a complete picnic like atmosphere with everyone sitting and eating. There were only two stalls allowed in the school campus, one selling cheese balls and one selling golas. All other food was what the families had brought with them. But just a glance around and you could see that everyone had brought in lots of food to enjoy.
Finally there was a closing ceremony which started with a March past which included kids playing a wide variety of musical instruments. There was a touch of Bollywood to it as the tune they were playing was “Zindagi milke bitayenge, hale dil gaa ke sunayenge, hum woh saath rang hai, jo jahan rangeen banayenge” from Satte Pe Satta. Not sure if there is a western version of the song. Then the results were announced and the Red team was declared the winner of the Olympics for this year. Then the Japanese flag was brought down and the Chief guest announced the games closed.
But things did not end there. What followed next was the cleanup act. Within the next 20 minutes, the school staff, the children and the parents cleaned up the whole school ground of all the stuff that were put up there and put them back in their places in the various school rooms and cup boards. The garbage was duly disposed off and all the decorations properly removed. Only after that the students left for home with their parents.
All in all a fantastic experience and one that I hope I can bring back to India and may be sometime in future see some school in India starting some similar stuff.