Sports Day in Japan (or, watch kids go crazy on a field)

Every year, Japan celebrates undoukai (運動会). It’s a holiday that celebrates sports and health awareness, and it usually involves children competing in very simple intramural events. While we were in Kyoto this past October, we were lucky enough to attend Ave Maria School’s undoukai. Friends and families cheer on the competing students, and it’s a great lot of fun to watch these young athletes excel…or, at least, yell their little lungs out with excitement.

You can learn the straight facts about undoukai from Wikipedia, so I thought I’d share our personal experiences.

Saturday, October 10, 2014, we set off from our house in Otani to Ave Maria School in Yamashina. Ave Maria School is a kindergarten/primary school, with three sets of class ages: 2, 4, and 6. My nephews* are in the 4-year-old class.


Taking the field at Ave Maria

Those kids love to march while swinging their arms.

There’s a cardboard rocket tower in the back, with the word “がんばって (ganbatte)” written on it. “Ganbatte” means, very basically, “Do your best,” and we heard a lot of it that day. Especially during all of the fun little contests, like this ball-to-basket toss.

For these little ones, the contests weren’t all that complicated. Most of them were some variation on a race. It didn’t matter, though. Watching kids run across a field is pretty much comedy gold any time.

While the students were very excited to compete, they also stayed pretty orderly. You know, for 4-year-olds.

SportsDay3The colored caps were used to keep the different “teams” straight…as well as to help families and friends keep track of where our particular kids were at any given time.

Undoukai is just as much a celebration of school pride. Here’s the 6-year-old class marching band performing semafore.

They’re not Army-Navy game caliber, but pretty good for 6-year-olds. Am I right?

My nephews had a great time participating in their first undoukai (this is the first year they’re enrolled in a formal school). They did well in the giant ball race – they’re twins, so they got to be together for that one – and their obstacle course races. At the end of the day, everybody gets a celebratory lift from their parents!


Parents resting their backs until the kids arrive.

I’m so glad we got to experience undoukai with family while we were there, especially since we were only in Japan for two weeks. It was a great time!

I almost forgot! We also had scrumptious obento (lunch box) made by my cousin that day. You’ve got to keep your body well-fed if you want to compete at the top of your game, after all!

SportsDayFoodHow do you celebrate sports and wellness in your family?

* I call them my nephews, but, actually, they’re my cousin’s boys. It’s just easier for me to refer to them as “nephews” instead of “second-cousins.”


13 thoughts on “Sports Day in Japan (or, watch kids go crazy on a field)

  1. Aww, they look SOOO adorable! I used to love watching the sports days when my kids were at primary school. So sweet. One year I took part in the Mums’ race they always have, the grass was wet and I literally ran two steps before slipping and falling flat on my face in front of everyone. So embarrassing, for me and my kids! Every year after that my kids would say to me “You’re not going to join in the Mums’ race this year are you?” Ha! And wow, those lunch boxes look wonderful! Healthy and delicious, I would happily take one of those to work for lunch every day 🙂


    • My cousin is a single mom, so she had to do both twins’ parents’ race. She did a great job, though. And, they were so cute. ❤ It actually made me a little bit teary to watch them, because I missed out on that stuff.
      That does sound embarrassing… but I'm willing to bet your children would love to have you compete for them, now, Vanessa. 🙂


    • I wish we had more cooperative-based sports endeavors for young kids here in the US. Ours always feel very competition-orientated. I suppose it’s as much a societal outlook as it is a sports one.
      Thanks for stopping in, Kourtney. 🙂


  2. Oh my goodness, those kids are stinkin’ cute. What a fun age, too. We have what is called “Fun Day” to celebrate the end of the school year. The kids do all kinds of games and activities that help teach them about the importance of heart health. They also raise money to donate to the American Heart Association, and the class that raises the most money gets first shot at dunking their Phys Ed instructor in a dunk tank. It’s a really great way to combine education and play.


    • That is a cool idea, to have them fund raise as well as learn about health awareness. It sounds like a very socially-conscious school your kids go to. That’s so different from a lot of the schools around here, which are very focused on the competition side of sports, and that’s it.

      Learning how to win a game is integral to strategy skills, but it’s also important for kids to understand every game like that has a side that doesn’t win. But, when kids are encouraged to focus on the overall good of a contest – like with a team fundraiser – they seem to become less concerned over the big W than they do with having fun.

      Thanks for stopping by, Kate!


  3. Adorable! And I also count cousin’s kids as nieces and nephews, but that means I also count my parents’ friends as aunts and uncles, too! It’s so much easier that way. 🙂

    Also, that bento looks amazing!


    • Thanks, spooney. I know – *so* much easier! Makes me feel a little bit closer to them, too. Certainly, enough to run after them in a crowded train station. 😀

      I wish I knew how to make bento like that! My cousin apparently does that for the boys all the time, so she’s used to all the cutesy bento stuff. It was fun to be on the receiving end nonetheless!


  4. Kids that age are just adorable, aren’t they? 🙂 It’s wonderful that you could spend their special day with them and cheer them on. I have to say—those boxed lunches look so delicious! Not at all what we would’ve had back in the day!

    Sports and wellness were not major interests in my family while growing up. But my husband and I do like to stay active and eat somewhat healthily. This early cold blast doesn’t make it easy, though!


Comments are closed.