Undokai – Demonstrating the Importance of PE

One unique feature the international school in which I teach is our relationship with the Japanese public school whose campus we share. The students regularly engage in exchange activities and we are currently preparing for the annual sports festival, Undokai (運動会).

All things considered, it is a very positive experience for our international students. In addition to challenging themselves physically, they benefit from the emotional and social shock of being dropped into the middle of this Japanese cultural tradition. They test their Japanese language skills and cultural adaptability. Team building, respect, trust, self-control, discipline, perseverance, and honesty are the keys to the Undokai, and, as with anything else, the learning is in the process. There is quite a lot of music and dance involved as well, particularly at younger grade levels.

It’s a challenge for the teachers, as well, as we test our own additional language and cultural sensitivity skills. I even managed to do a handstand yesterday!
Finally, the kids have fun. Certainly, not all  activities appeal to everyone, but I think that is one of the most important lessons:  Enjoy participating together; enjoy the enjoyment of others.
I do have some critiques, however. A little marching never hurt anyone, but Undokai is a bit militaristic for my taste. Consequently, preparation requires entirely too much time, and I think too much emphasis is placed on putting on a perfect show. Of course, perhaps I need to focus on sharing other people’s passion for perfection and not give too much weight to my personal opinions…
The 100-meter race is popular among students and is one of the only competitive events.
When someone asks me the infamous trick question, “what is the most important school subject?” I answer “Physical Education”. As my father, the Biologist, says, “You don’t have a body; you are a body.”
What could be more important than what you are?

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Bart Miller

Father, Teacher, Composer, Philosopher

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