Sunday, June 12, 2005


Today was the Nishi Shinjuku Junior High School Sports Festival. Back in NZ we think of school sports days as the usually 100m, 200m, high jump, relay and maybe shot put. But in Japan there is a whole different concept of what sports day is.

The day began at 9am with the opening ceremony, where the students march in formation before the Principal. Then all students and staff (including yours truly) take part in some simple callisthenic exercises which I think have been around for many years. The students then take their places for the first event.

The students compete both in class groups against the other classes in theior grade and all the students are ion one of two teams, the blue team or the red team. Points are awarded for winners etc. The red and blue teams have to make their own cheer, flag and banner (very impressive and artistic.)

The first event was the typical event of the 100m. Each person in the school (all 212 of them) have to take part in the event. To my surprise one of the students who is confined to a wheel chair also took part in this event. It is her final year at the school and she wanted to take part in one event before she left. So she wheeled herself unaided the full 100m on the gravel track. It was rather impressive itself but also as the spectator students all applauded her effort. This was the first of many great shows of sportsmanship I saw today.

Some of the other events through the day were:-

An event in which the all participants (bar one) crouch down while the other runs on their backs. When he ran across their back they had to quickly run to the end of the line and continue the human balancing beam. The first team to traverse the length of the playground was deemed the winner. The student on top wore a Happi coat (kind of traditional dress).

5 long poles are placed in the middle of the playground and the two teams line up on either side. On the whistle the teams have to sprint to the poles and try to drag them back to their side of the playground. More difficult and strategic than it sounds.

The tug of war….I took part in the PTA tug. Co-incidence maybe but the team I was on won!!

Dance and gymnastics. Including building huge human pyramids.

I was quite surprised to see a very high level of emotion among the students, especially the more senior ones. A large number of them cried both in defeat and victory. Some students were inconsolable for a long time after the apparent cause of their woe or win. Returning to sportsmanship, the students were remarkably supportive of each other. IN my experience in NZ when you have teams in this kind of event it is seen as acceptable to rubbish the other team but here the emphasis is to support your team.

I found it an odd dichotomy that teamwork is so strong despite the nature of the education system being so competitive to get into the ‘right’ High School and University etc.

The only little slip up in the proceedings was the gymnastic activity in which a student is thrown about 3m to other students who catch him. Unfortuantely the trajectory was slightly off and the ground broke his fall, he hit with a bit of a dull thud. I was a bit worried as I took a photo just as he was being thrown and thought that I might have to provide it to OSH in the investigation…..luckily only a few tears!

Unfortuantely I don’t have any pics to shw at this stage as my digital camera is in New York with my errant girlfriend, but I do hope to convert the photos I took with a film camera, soon.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Well as you can see below we have managed to escape Tokyo for a couple of days. We went to a place call Hakone. Which is the major tourist town near Mount Fuji (apparently…as the cloud cover prevented the visual confirmation of that).

We arrived on Sunday afternoon in a light drizzle which looked to be ominous after checking into the Hotel we decided to make the best possible use of the free travel pass we had purchased. The transportation system in Hakone is quite famous within Japan as the area is linked with gondolas, switchback trains and funicular trains. In Japan the Gondola system is a ‘Ropeway’, and a funicular train is a cable car (funicular is a train that rather than going on its own steam it is pulled by a large metal cable.)

After taking the funicular and the first part of the ropeway, we discovered that we could only get a view of the clouds and decided to save the rest of the sightseeing till the following day.

Back at the hotel we discovered our matching ‘yukata’, which to all intents and purposes is a dressing gown. We weren’t quite game enough to wear the thing to dinner although we were in the minority. As we arrived on a Sunday evening probably about 90% of the guests were retired folk. I have discovered if there is one thing the oldies in Japan love, that is Onsen.

Onsen is the Japanese name for a hot mineral bath. Over the weekend I took a couple of Onsen in two different hotels. Wasn’t such a bad experience! I can understand why it is so popular. Although I have to admit that I am still working up the gumption to take the more traditional ‘public bath’ approach. I was quite happy with the private bath in the meantime.

The following day we were able to get a view of the surrounding area from the ropeway etc. Very beautiful place, almost reminded me of NZ. We were able to stop at a volcanic hot spot in the vein of Rotorua. Apparently the tradition in Hakone is to buy half a dozen boiled eggs. These eggs are cooked in the volcanic water or steam which gives them an external, appetizing, black hue! Despite the outside looking rather disgusting the inside was just a normal egg.

We were able to take a boat ride and go for a nice walk through the cedar forest then take a bus back to the start point.

All-in-all it was a very relaxing getaway from Tokyo, I hope to go back there. Some of the hiking there looks really nice and that might a be a plan for autumn.

Oh…the sign is one of countless signs in English that are…almost…correct.

Monday, June 06, 2005

I thought Pub lice were an old wives tale?

Dont look down

Aahh the serenity

A real Japanese onsen

Gotta wash before you bathe.

Talk about hot trev!

These black eggs are cooked in the thermal waters of Hakone. Tasted like any other boiled egg though.

This Yukata dress is provided by the hotel and you are encouraged to wear it in the hotel, even when dining etc.