Friday, October 20, 2006

Japan - Undokai!

After making our way from Kyoto to Tokyo (and after a little stopover for dinner at La Rochelle, Iron Chef Sakai's restaurant), we visited my in-laws for a few days in the small town of Ryugasaki. This was actually the main reason for the trip - you see, both of my nieces were going to take part in their kindergarten's "undokai" this year, and it would be the only year they'd be doing it together.

What is undokai? From what I remember from childhood, there is no western equivalent. It's sort of a "sports day", although there's also dancing and music involved. It's basically eight hours worth of organized physical activities performed in little track suits for the benefit of the large crowd of parents and families. There are around 25 events, split by class and involving parents' participation in some tasks. It is very cute and fun to watch, and I guess it's intended to promote physical fitness starting at a young age, along with family togetherness and teamwork. It's common to all of Japan.

I'm not going to show actual photos of my nieces but here are some general views:

One of the most amazing events was the tug-of-war among the parents - this is serious business!

There was also a full marching band complete with color guard - for four and five year olds!

There is obviously a lot of time put in for practicing all of these events - months, in fact. The kids are very young, and it is a lot of pressure put on them - but they all handled it well and everybody put on a good show. Probably more importantly than that, everybody worked together and had a good time. This concept of pushing kids so young this hard is foreign to Americans, but it's difficult to argue with the results - Japan is a country that believes heavily in teamwork, is largely free of crime and by and large has a population in a lot better shape than we are.

This was the day after the typhoon had cleared, and it was crystal clear blue sky all day long. Sounds great, huh? Well, having grown accustomed to the rain and not really knowing how long this event was ahead of time, I didn't bother wearing any sun protection. Yeah, I got pretty burned. Over the next few days, my entire face peeled off - and it was pretty painful.

Small-town life in Japan is much the same as it is here, so other than undokai, we did pretty much standard family stuff for the next three days. (If you're curious about rural Japan, rent Kamikaze Girls - this movie was filmed in my in-laws' prefecture.)

There is one large temple near my in-laws' house - Narita Temple - and it is nearly as impressive as any of Kyoto's temples. (The architecture is slightly more modern than you'd see in Kyoto, though I'm not sure if that's because the main building itself is newer or just from renovations.)

I've been there several times now - it's kind of a family tradition that we go there every time my wife goes home.

After 3 days in Ryugasaki it was a quick hop back to Tokyo on the Joban line for more playing tourist. Tokyo posts coming soon!

1 comment:

  1. Nice posting on undokai -- I've generally described them as similar to the American "field day", except that field days don't usually have parents watching/participating, or music/dancing, or quite as interesting events, generally don't last all day with a midday meal, and focus more on individual performance than team performance. My oldest just had his undokai yesterday here in New Jersey at a private Japanese school.

    I have always been quite impressed with how much work clearly goes into it.

    Our parents' side won the tsunahiki. Twice, actually.

    I always liked the small-town stuff -- just going to the grocery store, taking my nieces and nephew to the local pool or the candy store, sitting in a jovial bar with a few Japanese guys heavily interested in 80's music, etc.


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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