Summer holiday has ended here in Osato, Japan and school is back in session; however, in Japan the school year never really ends. Even during the holidays students come in during the week to practice with their clubs. Prior to the official beginning of the semester, myriad instruments and voices echoed in the hallways of Osato Junior High as the students practiced for a competition in September. The gymnasium was littered with bright orange ping pong balls as the table tennis club practiced for hours in the afternoon. I’m not sure if I was more amazed at the student’s skills or the fact that they never crushed a ball on the floor.
On Wednesday the 27th the ping pong balls were replaced by students in uniform and the official opening ceremony took place marking the beginning of the fall semester. I addressed the students with my limited Japanese, saying things like “Watashi wa America no Virginia kara kimashita” (I am from Virginia in the United States) and “Watashi wa Nihongo wo amari umaku hanasemasen” (I cannot speak Japanese very well). I finished my speech in English and had one of the Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs) translate every few sentences.
After the formal ceremony, I assumed classes would resume as usual. Because of my illiteracy and inability to communicate I was in the dark about when I would actually be teaching and if classes were to begin. As an ALT in Osato Junior High School who doesn’t speak or read Japanese I have learned to just let things happen. I try my best to prepare but I’m never sure what I’m preparing for. I keep myself occupied making fun worksheets and arming myself with teaching material.
As it turned out, I only would teach one lesson this week with my JTE. This is an exception because of the weekend’s undokai, which roughly means sports festival. The undokai is similar to field day which many of us experienced during grade school. It is a full day of intramural competition in things like track, forty person jump rope, and “get the soft oblate spheroid in the small basket raised by a classmate.” The difference between an undokai and a field day is that the former is also a time to display the greatness of the school to parents and the community.
All this week the students—and staff—have been preparing for the upcoming undokai. It is a chance to show off the talents and organization of the school. There are fireworks, banners, tents, music, and food; undokai is a valued and respected tradition at Osato Junior High. Though at first I was confused as to why classes didn’t start when the term started, now I’m beginning to understand why. This Saturday when I experience the undokai first hand I will truly understand the reason for all the preparations. I look forward to taking many pictures and posting them on the blog (and Facebook) so you can get a feel for the adventure that is: undokai.