The school's Sport's day (Undoukai, 運動会) is a major school event and normally occurs at all school levels - even Kindergarten. While the day itself varies slightly between schools. Many schools in Oita hold their Sport's day either at the beginning of the year in Spring /first semester or at the end of the year in Autumn/second semester.
The day itself is normally held on a weekend to allow friends and family members to attend. Sometimes local associations will also attend and participate, for example at one of my schools the local volunteer firefighter association participated in a novelty race. At the same school their were also community events - including tug-of-war and a ball toss game. Sometimes Sport's day's can also include demonstrations or presentations by other school clubs.
Students are normally divided into teams, and depending on the size of the school this may involve multiple teams. Teams are normally named after colours, i.e. red, white, blue, yellow, green, etc. However typically most schools have at least at Red and White team.
Teams will make up their own cheers and may even have a cheer squad to support the competing students. Sometimes a team will have a team captain, who leads the cheers. At some schools, different year levels may also have performances between events, which can include traditional dances, Taiko drumming and more.
While the day itself includes more traditional track and field events like relay races. There are also tug-of-war games, as well as uniquely Japanese events. Some of these include:
- Tamaire: A game where teams have a certain number of bean bags (typically around 100), and each team tries to get their bean bag into their basket, which is attached to a pole. The team with the most bean bags in their basket wins.
- Taketori: Similar to tug of war, except the students are trying to drag/carry a long length of bamboo to their teams side
- Destiny race: This is an event that involves a student being given a challenge and having to complete that challenge and cross the finish line. At the sports day I attended this included things like winning a game of janken (rock-paper-scissors) against the vice-principal, crossing the finish line with your grandparent, naming 10 different types of soda/drinks, crossing the finish line with your favourite teacher and more.
Culture Festival - 文化祭
Cultural festivals are not always held at Elementary schools instead they will hold a similar event where the students showcase some of their work to their family.
Again the exact timing of your schools Culture Festival will be dependent on your school however it is unlikely that it will be held in the same semester as your school sport's day as both events involve a huge amount of preparation and practice.
Classes will normally host a booth or hold an activity. Common themes are normally cafes, haunted houses, plays and more. The class chooses their activity via voting and then works together with ideally minimal to no assistance or guidance from teachers. At some schools, school clubs will also host some kind of showcase as well, for example the tea ceremony club may invite guests to participate in a tea ceremony.
As Culture Festivals are normally open to the public, students often have friends and family visit their school festival.
While Sport's Day and the Culture Festival are two of the more universal school event experiences that you will see and maybe even participate in during your time on JET, students will also participate in other events throughout the year, such as music competitions, school trips, school camps and more.
Some of these events are specific to your school. For example, one of my schools is the alma mater of a famous sumo wrestler and has a Sumo Wrestling competition each year. At another school the entire student body participates in a famous local festival. It is definitely worth asking your supervisor or schools what other events they may have or take part in. Even if you don't want to take part in the event yourself, going on the day of the event is a great way to support your school and experience Japanese culture.