Every Year students around Japan have days specifically set aside for school outings. Unlike western field trip that usually have some sort of cultural theme, Japanese Ensoku are usually geared towards giving the students time outside to enjoy nature.
Elementary ensoku are usually comprised of a walk to local landmark or park where students play, eat, and learn. The walk is a physical activity that gets the students outside and allows them to visit local areas in a safe environment. Most ensoku also have a recreation aspect, with planned games.
Usually a team will be selected to help run the event, giving them speaking and leadership experience, with the responsibility for helping run the events. Afterwards, students usually eat bentos (lunch boxes) prepared by their parents. Students get to play on their own for a bit and socialize before helping to clean the area and returning to school. Every school has its own unique way to run the outings so they also help develop individual school identities.
Junior Highs also generally have ensoku, though these are usually geared towards giving the students an opportunity to plan and cook their own meals. In teams students usually prepare their ingredients the day before, then cook. Depending on the school and location, students may also travel to local parks or spots where they can use grills.
On my previous island, the school was small so the entire junior high walked the 2-3 kilometers to the closest port and had the ensoku there. On my new, much larger island, each school has their own ensoku. The plan for this year’s junior high was for each grade (first, second, and third) to go to a separate location by bus or walking. Unfortunately there was rain and lightning on the planned day, so instead of traveling the ensoku took place on school grounds. In the morning, each class had its own recreation activities. In the afternoon, first years ate bento, second years prepared and cooked in the home economics room, and third years cooked outside with portable grills.
Since each age did its own thing, there were plenty of activities going on in the gym. Most of the games and rec period activities were competitive and done by teams. Each lunch group gained points towards winning the ensoku outing for their grade. Activities included dodge ball, basketball, team jump rope, ball toss, shuffle board, and other team games.
The same teams that played together also worked together to cook their lunch. Since they had to plan and prepare their items in advance, they could only use the items they had brought. Each team cooked, put a plate up for the teachers to judge towards the overall competition, then ate together.
More on Ensoku
Since I have only lived on small outer islands, I can only imagine how challenging it would be to do the same kinds of activities at very large schools, still the Spring ensoku is an important part of the Japanese school system. It gives a rare opportunity for an abrupt change in schedule and transfers a bit of responsibility and creativity to the students.