Two Summer Endings – The Last Sports Festivals

IMG_5001_1On Kume Island, the first semester of school is over and students are on summer vacation.  For two of those schools it is the very last summer they will be open.  Due to rural depopulation both schools will close, with a ‘new’ school opening next April.  The unfortunate thing about the schools’ closing is the chance that local traditions and culture will be lost.  On this ancient island, each area has its own traditions that have become entwined with school events.

In rural Japan the local schools are the heart of the community.  The PTA, sports teams, and yearly events tie new and old generations together, provide entertainment, and healthful activities for all.  One of the most important events of the year at any school in Japan is the school sports day, which ties local groups, teachers, and students together in their preparation and performance. Both of the schools that are closing had unique activities at their sports festivals that may disappear forever.  Here’s a look at the 2013 Junior high sports festivals on Kume.

Kumeshima Junior High

Kumeshima Junior High is a small junior high with roughly 40 students.  Every year the kindergarten, Kumeshima Elementary, and the junior high combine forces for the school sports festival.  It is a full day event with many short distance sprinting races and relays.  In addition to the races students put on performances highlighting local culture, including eisa, dancing, and shishimai. In addition to regular sprints, the students competed in team relays from kindergarten up, as well as in songs, relays with obstacles and many more activities.

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One of the things unique to the area is a dance similar to the bon dance performed during obon in Okinawa.  The participants arrange themselves in a circle and dance to traditional music as they move around the field.

Nakazato Junior High

IMG_5380_1Nakazato is a much larger school, and as you might imagine has a lot more activities in addition to the usual races and relays.  Unlike Kumeshima, the junior high does not integrate its sports festival with the nearby elementary schools, though some students did come to participate in multi-year relays.  Even the school goat joined in the fun.

In addition to the races, the students performed feats of strength and coordination, played eisa drums, used a giant totem pole and had a demonstration fight between two champions, a tradition dating back to the days when different areas would feud with each other.

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The students, teachers, and community participants worked hard to prepare the grounds, themselves, and all the equipment needed for this full-day extravaganza.  In the end, all the effort brought the people closer together in a way that may never be seen in quite the same way again.