I am fairly sure that the Jellicle Cat would say that everyone in my school is on crack after today and yesterday.
I’m not sure that I wouldn’t say that about some people too.
Yesterday was the School Festival. In Japan thats apparently a combination of Speech Day, Beginning of term assembly, end of year assembly, the school fete, ‘House’ Drama competition, ‘House’ music competition and the school Disco.
We started off as I expected yesterday morning in the Gym with a speech from kyoto-sensei (Deputy Headmaster). I sat at the back behind the school children and behind the town officials and parents, given that it was 8:45 I was kind of surprised by how many parents had turned up.
Then we had representatives from each year (two from each year, one boy and one girl) standing up in their seats turning round lit by a (poorly operated but we’ll let him off since the kids only twelve) spot from the gantry and saying their piece about trying hard, duty (I think!), aiming for the best, making their school proud, something about parents, etc. etc. After their little sentence they went and stood on the stage with this tiny ichi-nen-sei (first year) who I happen to know from lessons has a huge voice! Anyway they’re all up there and I’m sort of expecting something choral, maybe a school motto or something, to be honest this little bit has struck me as being rather more theatrical than I expected from the speechy bit. Well instead of what I’m expecting the little lad stands up to the microphone (even before he starts I suspect this one doesn’t actually need the mike, it’s not that he shouts its just he has this really big voice, he naturally projects I guess). All of his statements are questions (they have a ‘ka’ on the end, ah my Japanese, so spotty) and they’re all along the lines of ‘We’re going to try hard aren’t we?’ and the kids up on stage and the kids at the front shout ‘YES’. It was like watching a miniature TV Evangelist. By the time he finished I was practically out of my seat shouting; but he finished with what I thought was on odd one:
‘Are you ready?’
I thought I’d mis-translated or mis-heard but no, upon the entire hall erupting with ‘HAIIIIII!’ (yes) he pulled a cord hanging from the grid and down poured glitter and the school banner. The audience cheered wildly, but it went ecstatic a second later when four nicely timed special effects went off on the front of the stage bursting out with flaming fireworks and more glitter.
My intial reaction was, if only they did speech day/ first day back assemblys like this at home then British school children might be as enthusiastic about school. Just imagine fireworks in the gym, glitter pouring from the ceiling…then I thought well actually, health and safety issues aside I’m not so sure that British school kids would go for it. My first reaction was ‘Hmmm this is a bit stagey’ why would theirs be any different? In fact I can see some schoolchildren I know (some of my contemporaries as well as some I’ve taught) deliberately being snooty over the whole thing. Yawning during the speeches wouldn’t stop and although the mini-evangelist might get some response you’d have to guarantee a child like that in every year to stop half-hearted, embarrassed thirteen year olds quieting down the whole show and fifteen years olds muttering in the back about how they could improve the whole thing, preferably by setting the fireworks to burn down the gym.
I pondered briefly in the darkness at the back whether its the difference in culture between camp and cool. Now I am camp, irresistably, inexcuseably camp. However, camp is not ‘in’ in Britain, especially if you’re a teenager, cool is…well…cool. And cool tends to distance itself from all things camp, especially fireworks, especially at school and especially when done in the name of anything enthusiastic. Cool is more about being slightly bored by anything that makes people enthusiastic, about being sarcastic whenever anyone dresses ‘pretentiously’ ie. has obviously deliberately chosen to wear something not in fashion, or conversely too fashionable. And cool cools down pretty much anything like I have just witnessed over the past two days.
But in Japan camp is cool (?) Enthusiasms welcomed however wierd. Be cheesy in photographs and do wacky things in the name of theatre, dance, or your school. Camp does everything a little over the top and just for fun, camp is colourful and enthusiastic and when camp yawns it’s more about having stayed up all night eating marsbars than because it’s bored.
Then, after the speeches were over, I was treated to an extravaganza of drumming, singing, banner waving, schoolgirl ninjas, self-written dramas, songs, sign language, acrobatics and more insane speeches. It was fantastically bizarre but even yesterday didn’t quite reach todays bizarreness…
Today was Sports Day, I took part in the teachers relay team, after a great lead by 1:2 (the teams are the classes over here) the teachers team finally won (1:2 came second, so basically won). The last time I ran was because nobody else in Ayscough (the house I was in at school) was stupid enough/eligible to run the 3000 metres. After five years of getting out of all things sporty with my asthma I suddenly had trip of ‘house-spiritedness’, 3000 metres is longer than you think, luckily everyone was ahead of me, one girl lapped me, so I could tell how many laps I was supposed to do when they all finished…it was the only time the first aid man thought he was going to be needed away from the field events (normally the injuries occured with the javelin and shot). I thought I’d died and absolutely no bugger was sympathetic, so much for my feelings of house spirit!
In anycase, today bore no resemblance whatsoever to Sports Day in England. It was more like a day of team building or something, no individual races or events as such but all team based events. There was the centipede race where the whole class line up and all the left legs are tied to a rope and all the right legs to another and they race each other like that (I didn’t see many fall over either, that must have taken some practice!) and the were so many many many events where the pupils divided into two teams and ran to the middle of the sports field to grab items and drop them at their side or try to drag what the other team was carrying to their side as well! It was so much more fun than anything I’ve seen since primary school.
I was very dissapointed when I was training to become a teacher to learn that such staples as the three-legged race, the egg and spoon, the obstacle race, the wheelbarrow race and the slow bike race were no longer part of the average primary school Sports Day due to the dangers involved. I think that Japan must be a less litigious society because the events here were more like the stuff you do at guides or on outdoor pursuits weekends (the excercises before you get to the fun stuff like abseiling!).
The teachers obstacle race was an interesting one, I wore a set of baggy trousers with kocho-sensei (the Headmaster), the Harry Potter fan and together we ran around the course, doing a brief egg and spoon, grabbing a breadbun with my teeth and skipping! That one was interesting.
Nothing, however, describes the closing ceremony. After the last race there was much sitting by the pupils and much scurrying activity by the staff getting together certificates and working out results and such. I helped the Mountain Climbing man build something that started to look like a bonfire out of pallets and crates and stuff whilst Nishino-sensei attached wires to it and ran them to the flagpoles next to the school. From where I was standing it looked like that part of back to the future when they’re getting the lightning bolt that struck the clock tower to power the Delorian. I was suspicious of that wire.
Then san-nen-sei (the third years) give out the certificates and the Harry Potter fan gives out greek statues (?!?) and then the fireworks go off…of course, its Japan, there have to be fireworks! And the school fix-it van decorated for the occaision rides out onto the field to the….Mickey Mouse Club song? Only it’s all danced up…and there are ni-nen-sei lads (second years) throwing flowers/ tissue paper from the van as if its a parade. And theres Mickey, with fluorescent ears holding a giant sparkler emitting golden sparks….actually it’s the return of the mini-evangelist only he’s dressed up as Mickey. I have no idea why.
They ride around the field and then up to the podium where Mickey leaps off and stands up doing his mini-evangelist bit and raising the crowd to fever pitch. There are three pupils stood in front of him from all three years and they’re holding (as yet unlit) giant sparklers (the sparklers are about as tall as they are!) Mickey lights them and they jog off like they were holding the Olympic flames to the flag pole, which I now note has three fuses attached to that end of the wire.
They light the fuses and BANG, down the wire the coloured lightning leaps, I half expected Michael J Fox to leap from the bonfire but instead the wire is now hung with coloured lamps and the huge rocket embedded in the pallets has exploded into the air and the fire roars away beneath.
It was amazing.
Then, apropos of nothing the pupils start marching around the fire, waving their colourful class banners, riding on each others shoulders and I can see groups of girls clinging onto each other with ‘that look’ in their eyes. The nostalgic look, the one that says ‘I’m in my last year here with all my friends, wow just think about everything here, God I love everyone here’. A couple of third years even grabbed me in that hold and it felt so strange, I barely know the school really and suddenly I was embraced into that particularly girly nostalgia wave. I stood in front of the podium as a group of third year lads took it and started doing their dance routine from yesterday. I stood there as the crowd started chanting a name and another boy stood on the podium and did impersonations of the staff, everyone else rolling on the floor in hysterics.
I’ve seen that boy before, every school has him, at CGS he was called Ratty and I truly thought he was one in a million, but I’ve seen him in miniture, I’ve seen him in Accrington and now I’ve seen him in Japanese, transcending the language barrier with his accuracy. I thought their could be nothing like him and it turns out there several.
Schools are such hotbeds of potential. I knew so many people who were one in a million, who were totally unique and I keep seeing them as I go on, and they’re just as unique and just as amazing. But something happens, they lose that drive, that desire to do all the amazing things that they’re going to do. Where does it go? What makes these amazing people sink back on their haunches and say ‘I can’t do it’?
I’m in Japan. I’ve had the trippiest experience of my life and I’m still wondering what makes people stop living and start existing.
Nolite tes bastardes nil carborundorum san-nen-sei!