Japan Outpost Extra: Autumn — Undoukai

We have a saying that goes, “暑さ寒さも彼岸まで (Atsusa samusa mo higan made) “, which means that even the most persistent heat or chilly air will subside around Autumn or Spring Equinox. In other words, until around Sept. 20th when the Autumn Equinox comes, the heat of summer lingers on. So imagine, once at last it cools down towards the end of September, how refreshing it feels! We can start sleeping better, and our appetite picks up. We feel like going on a trip, catching up on reading on long nights, or engaging in rigorous exercises.
We have plenty of phrases to describe these changes in Autumn: 食欲の秋 (shokuyoku no aki: Autumn for enjoying food!); スポーツの秋 (supoutsu no aki: Autumn for sports!); 読書の秋(dokusho no aki: Autumn for reading!); 芸術の秋 (geijyutsu no aki: Autumn for appreciating art!), to name a few.
To reflect this, in schools, there is an athletic meeting day (秋の運動会: aki no undoukai). This is a big day when a whole family will come to see their children’s performance. Not only the usual 100m and 200m races and relays, there are many other shows, such as dancing, and other entertainments. For this day, pupils and students practice very hard. As soon as the second term starts on Sept. 1st, many hours will be spent practicing. When I was a child, it was never a fun activity. I remember how hard we had to practice marching. It was just like a military drill! I think I can still march meticulously in five columns!
Another difficult exercise was 組体操 (kumi taisou: coordinated group gymnastics). For this, at each whistle, students climb up on each other like building blocks until the final figure is completed (probably the photos will explain better!). When we managed to complete the last figure, there was huge applause, and we did feel a strong sense of accomplishment. Yes, the hard work had paid off.

Look up!


Can't hold anymore!


But it was not just the hard training I remember about the undokai. I remember very well that I was excited to find my mother’s face in the crowd when we broke for picnic lunch, and how sweet and juicy a 梨 (Nashi: a Japanese pear; it ripens around early September) she peeled for me tasted.
Once an athletic meeting is over, there will be a 文化祭 (bunkasai: Cultural festival) at a later date, usually around mid to late October, mainly for high schools and universities. At universities, it is called 大学祭 (daigakusai: University festival), or 学園祭 (gakuensai) and can be extremely elaborate. Besides many food and shop stalls, which are run by students and various students’ Societies and clubs, there are often concerts and recitals by famous musicians, comedians, and performers. Because of the huge number of visitors, often famous food companies hold stalls at these festivals for promotional purposes. Recently, they have started 学園祭グランプリ(gakuensai grand prix) to decide the best gakuensai among all the universities in the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, so it’s a serious business! Many people check the schedule of gakuensai’s and try to do “gakuensai-hopping”. This is one way of enjoying Tokyo’s Autumn. Would you like to try that next time?

NB: Recently, there have been a few serious accidents in kumitaiso, so a number of schools decided to stop doing it altogether, or to limit the number of layers.

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