JIN-390 -- The Death of Sports Day Greatly Exaggerated

The J at pan Inc. Newsletter
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 390
Sunday October 29, 2006 TOKYO

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@@ VIEWPOINT: The Death of Sports Day Greatly
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@@ VIEWPOINT: The Death of Sports Day Greatly

Japan's weekly magazines are racy no-holds-barred journals
that attract a readership bored with the insipid fare in
the mainstream press. They are where Japanese look
for the rest of the story. They are also notorious for an
absence of attribution, sources rendered an alphabet
soup of initials. Just how true are their stories?
I can't verify their reportage on the pink industry, which
accounts for a large portion of this pulp fare. I do,
however, have personal knowledge of one topic recently in
their pages--sports day, known as the "undokai" in Japan,
having attended the event on September 30 at Motomachi
Elementary School in Yokohama.

On October 8 I came across the article "Death of the School
Sports Day" in the "Japan Times" popular "Tokyo
Confidential," a compendium of translations, with
commentary, of articles from the weeklies, which appears
in the newspaper's Sunday edition. The article originally
appeared in the Japanese magazine "Sunday Mainichi."
The article arrived at the grim forecast of the title by
averring "the undokai has become something of an
anachronism. Raised on video games, today's generation of
youth lack the physical stamina, never mind the competitive
spirit, to spend an entire day playing sports."

In evidence of children's poor physical condition the
article says kids complain the tug-of-war hurts their
hands, and at one elementary school even complained of
fatigue after standing through the opening ceremony.
At my son's sports day kids gave their all, whether tugging
on the rope or running foot races individually or in relays
around the schoolyard track. In the "kibasen," a mock
cavalry battle, in which three children carry a fourth and
the "horsemen" attempt to snatch the hats of enemy riders,
teachers closely observed the sometimes
violent combat, and intervened to prevent injury or to
end an exhausting draw.

Parents are driving another nail into the coffin of sports
day, according to the weekly. "They view the events
as an excuse to kick back and get drunk," says the magazine,
"rather than give support to their kids' sporting ambitions."
On that hot day in early autumn at Motomachi Elementary
some fathers may have enjoyed a can of beer at lunch.
But I saw no tipsy dads, let alone inebriation. What I did see
were more cameras than you'd find at a press conference by
the Prime Minister. Every child was the focus of parental
attention and mightily did parents cheer.

Lunchtime kids joined their families for a picnic. But
according to the weekly, "delivered pizza, rather than
traditional, homemade food, is becoming the common meal."
I didn't see any Domino Pizza scooters whisking pies to
families. Would any mom have braved the sideways glances
of other parents as the delivery boy wended through
families gathered round spreads of rice balls, fried chicken,
kamaboko, and assorted vegetables?

The weekly quantifies its school sample only once,
with the phrase "at one public elementary school."
Otherwise it makes generalizations for Japan as a whole.
As a parent, I'm glad my son's school isn't like the ones
decribed in the article -- if such places really do exist.
I wonder whether the weeklies are two parts hyperbole and eight
parts generalization.

The death of sports day was greatly exaggerated.

-- Burritt Sabin
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