Sports Day and the Typhoon - The Spirit of Gaman
Three months ago we had school sports day. This is perhaps the most import event in the school calendar, along with culture Festival. This is the day the kids have been practicing for all summer. Day in day out, before school after school and on weekends. Everything had to be perfect; the formal opening ceremony complete with flags being hoisted, the school orchestra playing the school song, the military marching drills, and the numerous speeches by the headmaster, and school captains.
It was also the same day that a typhoon hit us. A typhoon is the Asian word for a hurricane; a cyclical weather pattern that gains its power in the ocean and when it hits land, unleashes all of mother natures fury in the form of extremely high winds and horizontal rain. I had never been in a typhoon before, and let me tell you, these winds are strong, the strongest I have ever experienced, scary winds, winds where you feel your roof is going to peel off, or your car door will be wrenched out of its hinges and sent flying into the sky.
The kids and teachers had put so much effort into the preparations; they had made huge flags, massive manga style banners, they had written songs to support their team and even composed music for the day. After all those hours, days and weeks spent practicing, and preparing for this sacred day, and having had to have rescheduled once already due to the last typhoon, there was no way they were going to let a little wind and rain spoil their day, so it went ahead regardless.
The first few events were similar to what we have back home, 100m sprint, 400m sprint, a relay. But that was pretty much it in terms of sports. The rest of the competitions were just pure Japanese craziness. A 50m sprint to a baseball bat, spin round it with you head down 10 times, down a 500ml bottle of ice cold coke, sprint another 50m. Throw Up. “Hat Battle”; grab your opponent’s hat whilst on piggy back, or my personal favourite “Tyre Wrestling”. There was a line of about 30 old car and lorry tyres, big and small. On either side of the tyres the red and blue teams were lined up. Upon the bang of the gun, they have to run to the tyres, and grab as many as they can a bring them back to their side.
As the minutes ticked by, the weather was rapidly deteriorating. We could all feel the storm building, the black clouds looming, the winds increasing in strength, and the mercury falling. Everyone kept glancing up at the ominous, moody heavens, everyone could feel it brooding. Rain began to fall in short powerful bursts. The teachers and spectators ducked into under the shelter of the tents, but for the students there was no such respite. The games continued.
The gusts of wind began to cause problems, spectators hats were being removed from heads, and the tents were in danger of being sucked into the sky and deposited somewhere in Ishikawa. It was promptly decided that one tent should be dismantled, before the wind did it for us. Still the games continued – with now all the spectators teachers and announcers cowering in the one remaining tent, desperately holding onto it to prevent lift off. Nervous smiles were exchanged, in an attempt to ignore our inevitable fate.
Another quarter of an hour passed, by which time the rain was hammering down, and the kids were drenched. I was just wondering how much longer they were going to let the punishment continue when an almighty gust of wind picked up the wooden banners with all its force and flung them across the pitch. Suddenly, it’s action stations and teachers are jumping left right and centre, attempting to baton down the hatches and prevent loose debris from become weapons of mass destruction. In winds this strong, a clip board becomes a ninja star and the humble pencil a bullet.
I rose to the occasion and heroically dived on a piece of plywood 2m by 2m and held on to it as it flinched violently as though preparing for take off. A teacher motioned that I should take it inside, which was the other side of the pitch. I wasn’t so sure that this was the greatest idea I’d ever heard, but seeing as it was my first typhoon, I thought it best to listen to the experts.
I picked it up and began to drag it across the pitch, the wind making it buoyant in my hands. I tried desperately to hold on it, but to my horror another huge gust of wind wrenched it from my grasp, and sent it hurtling into a crowd of kids - STRIKE! – it wiped them out, splitting them like pins, but still it didn’t stop there. I shouted a warning at the top of my lungs, but in vain; it flew another short distance and caught one unlucky first year right in the legs before finally coming to rest three meters up in the air, pinned to the fence by the force of the wind.
I felt terrible, but the students didn’t seem to hold too much of a grudge, and were more concerned with avoiding other shrapnel that was heading our way. All sorts of objects were flying past us at 100mph, bottles, fans, random bits of wood. Even the sand from the pitch was being fired at our bear legs, arms and eyes – we were being shot blasted alive! It was an scene of absolute fear, panic and disorder, but in true Japanese style, they refused to cease the games.
The grand finale was the “cheering competition”. All of the "disciplines", I’d seen today, I think this is the one that was viewed as the most important. Everyone had a part to play, and this is what would determine the winning tea. Each team had to perform a short cheerleading style dance piece. Here was a group of 15 year old girls and boys, waving their pom-poms around thinking they were the mutz nutz, and to be fair they were. Some of the boys were busting out back flips and somersaults all on a shitty piece of gravel/sand which was now mud, whilst the rain was pounding them, absolutely drenched, with the wind blasting them at 150mph. They were soaked to the skin, but full respect is due to them, as they carried on till the bitter end.
It was on this day that I learnt a little about the Japanese grit, determination, endurance, and spirit. What the Japanese refer to as Gaman I believe.
Rain stopped play?
Never. We’re Japanese don’t you know.