Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Traditional School Festival

In my first week of work I got to experience a High School Culture Festival. These are annual events put on by most all schools in Japan in which the students can exhibit their artistic talents. They can be attended by parents of students, families possibly wanting to enter a specific school, and the general public. In my case at Izumigaoka  (E-zumi-giao-ka) High School, it was a 3-day event that gave me a taste of the talent and awe-striking abilities of the high school students I will be teaching. 

The best way I can describe the event is like a fair or carnival put on entirely by the students. At the opening of day one, there were several performances by various clubs and classes ranging from brass band numbers, to comedy skits, to break dance performances, and pre-recorded movies. Though I couldn’t understand much of what was going on, I was amazed by the talent of these 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. I knew they had been preparing hard for this, but I didn’t have quite the idea it would be to this level. 

In the courtyard there were several food tents set up where all the 11th grade students were responsible for selling a food item. As I walked around these booths I was amazed at the cooking ability of these kids. They were serving up traditional treats and culturally iconic foods. I was alone at first so I couldn’t quite figure out how to pay for the food I wanted. Luckily I ran into two nice girls whom I had spoken with before, Narumi and Senri. These two little sweethearts took me under their wing and walked me around the food stalls helping me try things. Turned out you had to buy tickets for each specific stall at a table near the entrance so I needed a lot of help with this.  They helped me to choose foods to try, based on their recommendations. Each portion was not large so it was easy to try many things. All in all I tried: tapioca milk tea, Churros, Oreo Crepe, soy sauce popcorn, and a few other traditional Japanese foods of which I don’t know the names. All my selections were incredibly tasty. The students ran the food stalls with great organization and cleanliness. Again, I can’t tell you how impressed I am with these students. 

On the third floor of the school many of the classrooms were set up as game rooms or attractions. One attraction I went in was a dark maze, complete with people popping out to scare you. There were several life sized games that students built and their attention to detail in their decorations was immaculate. 

I played a very small role in the festival on day two. The English Speaking Society Club did a quiz show style skit and my responsibility was to run through the audience with a microphone to find audience members to answer the questions. 

Also on day two, one of my teacher friends surprised me by taking me to the Japanese Tea Ceremony demonstration. Mrs. Shimamura and I had already spoken about this and she thought it would be something I would like. There is a special club that girls can participate in to learn this traditional art. We went in the small tea ceremony room and were treated to a special sweet treat followed by Japanese macha tea prepared in certain steps. It was quite delicious and it was very interesting watching the girls practice this ancient ritual. Stay tuned for a full post on Japanese Tea Ceremony at a later time. 

On the third day of the festival, which actually got postponed because of a typhoon, the 12th grade students did their performances. Their performances, focused on theatre they put on plays with their individual classes of 40 students. By plays, I mean more like 25-minute live movies complete with hand painted backdrops, props, costumes, and soundtracks. They even pre-recorded their own voices to play over the speakers to have the volume audible in the large outdoor space in which they performed. It was an all day ordeal watching 10 classes perform for 25-minutes with about 10 minutes break in between to reset. I understood nothing of what was being said, and only vaguely could follow along with the context and plots. The very first performance we watched had a Back to the Future theme. I questioned the connections at first, but when I saw the boy in the red puffy vest I knew Marty McFly had walked onto the stage. 

I keep hearing that the students in my school are shy. Seeing these kids perform, interact, and show their talents made them seem far from shy. This school festival is a tradition I am told. None of what they did these past days will be graded. From what I can see it was all about fun, bonding, and showing the well-roundedness of their skill sets. Now it will be back to business, but I’m incredibly pleased that I was welcomed to Kanazawa by this impressive cultural event.