Oct 22, 2018

Reflections on Japan’s undokai - sports day

Our daughter had her first preschool undokai (sports day event) recently, and it was a really enjoyable day. We got to see her and her classmates having a bunch of fun with the various activities on offer, but as newbies to the sports day in Japan scene it was a learning experience for us too. I’ve had some time since the event to think about it, and here are three takeaways I learned from the event.

Reflections on Japan’s undokai - sports day  photo

1 They don’t mess around - these events are well coordinated 

I didn’t know what to expect from an undokai here at all, but the event ran like a well oiled machine. Perhaps most impressive to me were the hand painted murals they had organized to represent the two teams for the day - donguri (acorns) and himawari (sunflowers). The classes had been practicing for weeks, so even young children knew exactly what they needed to do when it came to be time for their events.

2. Think back home an event would be cancelled due to poor weather? That’s not the case here…

It started drizzling pretty badly during the event, and in other places you may expect they’d call things off or move them undercover when practical to do so. Not in Japan! They broadcast over the loudspeaker that the events would continue as planned, despite Mother Nature not giving us her best display. I guess it was a reminder that the kids don’t really mind about getting wet and muddy, and in fact it probably added to the fun for them. Makes me wonder if back home we’re too insulating to a degree.

Reflections on Japan’s undokai - sports day  photo

It was a case of “the show must go on” despite some poor weather.

3. The importance of family - including grandparent relationships - was really emphasized.

Something that surprised me about sports day here (compared to similar styled events back home) was the importance of family relationships. Back home for sporting events, it’s usually all about the kids - parents may or may not even attend. Here though, sports day actually involves family members, with parents participating in certain events with their children. There were even events solely for children’s grandparents to compete in! I found this unique and perhaps telling about Japanese society (and maybe more so the countryside life) that grandparents live in such close proximity that they’re able to do this! It was sweet to see so many adults in children’s lives present and involved.

Been to a sports day event in Japan with your child? How do you think it compares to similar school sporting events back home?



After spending the last several years in the beating heart of Tokyo, I will be spending the next three in the countryside of Japan. I adore this country and all it has to offer - and I'm always learning more and more about life here as I go along!