Tag Archives: sports day

Brief Fits of Violence and Horror

Yesterday I talked about the different types of parents at sports day. Today I thought I should talk about sports day itself.

My first taste of sports day happened my first few months in Japan. I was invited to attend in a way that made it seem as if my attendance was optional. However, as an Assistant Language Teacher working for the school board, I felt it was my duty to attend and, because I was still in the early glow of being in Japan, I was looking forward to attending. Then I got to school and one of my teachers said “I see you’re participating in the shototoshobugubugu  and in the tsunabunatikihiki.” (not their real names) I went “huh?” and then figured out I was running the obstacle course and the taking part in the tug-o-war.

I’ve mentioned before that, partly thanks to acting, I have a bum knee and pointed out that, in fact, I had a limp and that I shouldn’t be involved in a running race, especially when jumping on and over stuff was involved. I also pointed out that I thought it was optional and didn’t understand why I was scheduled for events. They shrugged and said “ganbatte” which usually means “don’t give up” but in this case meant “Stop bitching and start stretching. You’ve got a race to run.”

The obstacle course involved moving 10 beans from one plate to another with chopsticks, hurdling a bar and crawling under another, crawling under a cargo net, running across a balance beam, fetching a piece of candy out of a tin of flour using only my face (not a joke), running around the track with the candy in my mouth and my face, eyes and lungs covered in flour, jumping on and over a vaulting horse, and then limping to the finish. The tug of war involved teachers and parents and went reasonably well for the other team.

What fascinated and horrified me the most, though, was the surprisingly violent nature of a lot of the sports. At one junior high school there was a tire grab where students rushed to several tires and tried to drag them back to their side. People got knocked down and stepped on and lots of skin was scraped off hands as tires were yanked away. In another event, called kibasen, three students carry a fourth whose job it is to grab a hat or bandana off the heads of rival students. Tempers flare, hair gets yanked out, some students abandon the pretext of grabbing the bandana and simply start pummeling their rivals.

At another junior high, groups of boys held up bamboo poles with flags on them and then formed pyramids that reinforced the flagpoles. Teams of girls then fought to pull down and or capture the opponent’s flag. This involved girls knocking girls down before they could reach the pyramid, girls jumping on the backs of boys in the pyramids to get more height, girls pulling girls down off the pyramid and dumping them in the dirt, and years of bad blood coming out. In once case, a girl was knocked out cold when got pushed backward off the pyramid and hit the back of her head square on the knee of another girl.

The school nurse saw the girl wasn’t moving, ran out into the game, which was still going on, slung the girl over her back and carried her away from the game without checking her once. Now, I appreciate roughhousing as much as the next person–and I’m still shocked that it’s the usually sedate Japanese doing these violent sports–but dragging an unconscious person off the field while play is still going on, causes even me to have a sense of decency.

Some schools have tamed some of the events–students usually grab large hats now instead of bandanas–but there’s still a lot of roughhousing to be had. Even in the elementary school events, my youngest had a bamboo pole grabbed out of her hand and was later dragged across the dirt by several stronger kids.

Neither Mercy Nor Respect Nor Scrap of Human Decency

Most parents I’ve met in my life have seemed like decent people. However, one of the things I’ve learned in my Daddyhood is that no matter who the parents are, no matter what they do in life, all parents transform into either aggressive jerks or complete morons during an elementary school sports day. (Actually, there’s a third category, but we’ll get to that.) This is especially true in Japan.

The first transformation occurs before the event begins. If it’s scheduled to start at 8:40 a.m., you will see parents roaming the field at 7:30 or 8:00 so they can mark territory with blue tarps. (At some of the more prestigious schools, parents camp out overnight for the best spots.)  In our case, aggressive jerks lay out blue tarps and weight them down with a bag or a couple bottles of water and then disappear until the starting time. There’s no requirement that a person actually be there, the blue tarp holds the spot.

Once people arrive, you really see the transformation. Complete morons arrive in funny hats and/or long sleeve jackets to protect themselves from the sun. Children are allowed to run across other people’s blue tarps. At the start of events, the complete morons rush to their places, thus blocking sight lines for other parents. They then realize they chose a bad spot and rush off to a new location, upsetting even more sight lines.

This is also time for the arrival of the aggressive jerks. In the photo areas, they force their way to the front, they set up tripods and they bump other aggressive jerks’ tripods. The taller they are, the more likely they are to forget that tall people don’t need to be at the front because they can see over short people. They talk loudly so the only thing you can hear on the video is the sound of complete morons talking about how some people are aggressive jerks. The worst are the parents and grand-parents of first graders attending their first sports day. They rise to a special level of aggression and will not be denied. They are not the worst, though. They are merely inexperienced, which makes them complete morons.

When you combine aggressive jerk with complete moron you get the third category: asshole. The asshole is seated close to the front, with a great view of the action, but stands up because he doesn’t understand that standing up doesn’t bring the picture closer, the zoom lens does. The asshole also doesn’t understand that the zoom lens works just as well whilst you’re sitting. This causes other assholes to stand up while some aggressive jerk behind them shouts, in another language, “sit down, asshole.” because he forgot to ask his wife how to say “down in front” in Japanese.



Most people are aggressive jerks when their child is on the field, but quickly excuse themselves or sit down once the heat is over. The asshole, though, will remain standing long after most others have sat down.

That said, for the most part, the sports days at my youngest’s elementary school are pretty painless. Unfortunately, I’m required to get mad at someone, and therefore be an aggressive jerk, at least once per sports day or the day isn’t complete. I’m also one of the morons wearing a funny hat

This is an example of a moron.