Apple Country

Stories of rural life as an ALT in a northern Japanese fishing town.

Bunkasai – school culture festival

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All my junior high schools had their culture festivals the other week, which is a chance for them to proudly display their recent work around school and put on a variety of performances on stage for their family and friends to see.  Every year a theme is chosen, and the students and teachers transform the school with decorations accordingly.  Each classroom has a different display.  The pictures below are of the display to find out about your personality.  I did my best to translate the description for people who like green i.e. me.  If you know me well, I wonder if you agree with it!  I thought it was pretty accurate…

“Find out your personality and psychology based on your favourite colour”

“People who like green: Fundamentally calm and has a steady way of doing things. Is also very patient. Strong endurance, kind personality, dislikes fighting and seeks ordinary calmness. Behaves properly and doesn’t cross others’ paths. Wants to cooperate with people, so lacks self-assertion. “

Last year one of my schools chose “Frozen” as their theme, and even though I can’t stand that film it was pretty cool to see the classrooms covered in paper snowflakes and icicles.  This year, the schools’ themes included “Grow up” (with Alice in Wonderland decorations) and “Infinity”.  Motivational expressions are a thing in Japan so they usually go with something like that.  My favourite school had the “Infinity” theme, and began their opening ceremony with a white canvas lying flat on the middle of the floor, with only the symbol for infinity painted on it in red.  The music started (One Direction, of course) and a group of students dunked their hands in some paint and started making prints all over it.  Another student wrote the Japanese for infinity 無限 (literally “no limit”) inside the symbol.  She used what looked exactly like a mop, but I’m sure it was much more sophisticated than that…

Then the music changed and the Vice-Principal entered from the back, in this badass blue hakama, carrying a long red sash.  I really liked the song they chose because it sounded like the beginning of Bittersweet Symphony by the Verve, and I looked it up later and it was One Direction, AGAIN.  I don’t like it anymore.  Anyway, the VP knelt down at the edge of the canvas, tied one part of the sash underneath his arms and around his shoulders, then tied the other part around his head.  He then proceeded to elaborately write calligraphy from the top to the bottom of the canvas like a true expert.  It was one of the most kakko-ii things I have ever seen.  I just asked the lovely janitor at my school what the sash is called and why they wear it, cos I wasn’t having any luck with Google… but it doesn’t have a special name, just the Japanese equivalent of “sash”.  She said people wear them to keep the sleeves out of their way when they do stuff like cleaning and calligraphy.  If you’ve seen Spirited Away, it’s like what the bath house cleaners wear with their pink overalls.

He tied it sort of like this...

He tied it sort of like this…

I was asked to help judge the chorus performances in the morning, and got free tickets to get noodles and a chocolate banana from the canteen room.  After I ate with the students, I was challenged to an arm-wrestling match by a sumo-loving first grader.  She looked pretty strong so I didn’t hold back, but she lost to the surprise of her friends.  Then the third grade boys wanted to have a go, and the competitive side in me came out… I beat them all until I taught them a few techniques and the tables drastically turned!!  It’s because my arm was tired, ok?

Being part of the chorus is compulsory, which is a shame because it means the quality of the singing is compromised… but at least it gives them a chance to try it out.  All students sang the same song at the beginning, then each class took it in turns to sing the song again, followed by another song that they’d chosen.  I wanted the first years to win, but it seems like the third years just won by default from being the most senior year.  My opinion was denied (even though we agreed 1A was better than 2A in the beginning) and the music teacher changed her mind, putting 3A in first place, then 2A, then 1A.  She agreed that 1A were very good for first years, but it was the “team effort” that counted.  Fair point, but that doesn’t make 2A better singers…

When I arrived at school on Tuesday,  bags and bags of stripped-down decorations lined the corridor, waiting to be thrown away.  It made me kind of sad that they didn’t keep them up longer, but it seems that’s the way with most celebrations in Japan.  Even at Christmas, come the 26th December, there isn’t a strand of tinsel in sight.  At least it means you don’t get those weirdos who leave their Christmas trees up until March.

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