I cannot believe that this is our last full day in Japan. This has been a wonderful trip; it has been the trip of a lifetime! Alas, all things must come to an end, and this is the end of our group's tour. Today was a free day with our host families. We were free to do what we wanted to do with our host families, but it was highly encouraged that we attend a sporting event and ceremony at the Kakujo Middle School. Several members of the Wind Ensemble came to watch the event; our family stayed for the entirety of the sporting event, as one of their daughters was in the day's events on multiple occasions. The event, from beginning to end, resembled an American track and field meet, however, this meet was much more ceremonious. The day started with the raising of flags, much like an American sporting event would. Then, however, there was a presentation of flags, which I found to be unusual. The flags were of three different colors and were given to three students. Then I noticed that all of the rest of the students were wearing headbands matching the colors of the flags. My host father explained to me that the Middle School was divided into three separate teams by colors, and the school teams competed with each other, and not with other area schools, as would often be the case in the United States. The students also did a lot of bowing on command.
After the presentation of the flags, the opening ceremony took place. The ceremony was extremely impressive on its own, and was made even more impressive by the fact that the students were on a field completely made of sand and the weather was raining very hard. The first of the two halves of the opening ceremony consisted of an all men's group performing acrobatics and movements to the beat of a drummer at the head of the group. The performers went through several poses, formations, and personnel arrangements throughout the course of the ceremony. Most amazing, however, was the final formation in the boy's opening ceremony. Many of the smaller and younger boys were situated almost directly in front of the audience with their arms locked with one another, making what appeared to be waves rippling back and forth. The other boys divided and created three human pyramids, each seven boys high. This feat was made all the more impressive by the fact that the rain made this stunt much more difficult and dangerous. However, the boys and their coaches were dedicated to their hard work and determined to put on a show, and performed the stunt anyway.
After the boys' ceremony came the girls' ceremony. Their portion of the opening events was much more dance-based and was choreographed to a song which was played over the PA system. I asked Megumi-san what the song was, and she told me it was a "Song of the Fishermen," which made perfect sense to me when I looked closer at the girls' movements. They appeared to be sweeping back and forth, much like a fisherman would do while swinging nets ashore. All of the girls wore several different colors of robes, which added to the flare and to the "showiness" of the performance. Their choreography required a great deal of balance and coordination, which was also impacted by the rainy conditions. In spite of the weather, the girls performed their part of the opening festivities well, which then lead straight into the day's sporting events.
Only two events of the several which were scheduled were actually performed due to the rain. First, the students participated in a relay race. This took place like any American track and field relay race would, except that the relay was co-ed, which I found interesting. However, their running track was completely made of sand and, as a result, there were several slips, falls, and unintentional slides over the course of the relay. I felt bad for those who fell down in front of hundreds of people; they couldn't help the fact that the track was so slippery.
After the relay came the cheering squads for each of the three teams. Each team's cheer squad was allotted five minutes to perform their choreographed act. All of these acts were choreographed to a drum, much like the boy's portion of the opening ceremony. Both men and women were equally represented in the cheer squads' acts. Each team had its own squad and its own cheering act. The artistry and precision of these groups was superior to many American cheer squads that I've seen.
After a thirty minute intermission in which the students were able to clean off and reorganize, there was a parade of all of the school's sporting and interest clubs. Among the clubs were the band (which headed the parade with their instruments and music, much like a marching band), choir, softball, tennis, table tennis, running, swimming, and many other groups. As it turns out, one of my host sisters, Jun, was captain of the school's swimming team (which was awesome to find out!).
[Host sister Jun (left) and a friend]
[Jun and the Swimming Club]
What a great part of our final day in Japan this was.