A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Sports Day in Japan Commemorates the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games- Why is it in October? ( and a bit about the Tsukuba University Festival)

1964 was a pivotal year in post-war Japanese history. With the inauguration of the first SHINKANSEN bullet train, the introduction of the first color TVs, and most importantly, the hosting of the Olympic Games, it was a year which now symbolizes Japan’s economic recovery and marks its return to the forefront of the international scene after a two decade period of frenzied rebuilding following the total devastation of WWII. 

In 1966, the Japanese government designated October 10th as Taiiku no Hi (Sports Day) to commemorate the Games. If you are wondering why October was selected as a day to remember the Summer Olympics, you are not alone. The fact is, however, that in 1966, the Opening Ceremonies were held on the 10th of October! The wise decision to hold the Tokyo Summer Games in Autumn was made in deference to Japans cruelly humid summer weather (why wasn’t the same change made for Beijing?).

Since the year 2000, as part of the HAPPY MONDAY MOVEMENT (having national holidays on Monday to make a 3-day weekend), Taiiku No Hi has been moved to the second Monday of October, giving us a nice break in what is probably Japan’s best season weather-wise ( not this year, though!). 

Over the Sports Day weekend you are likely to hear signal fireworks (aizu no hanabi) announcing that school and university sports festivals (UNDO KAI) are being held. For the Japanese, these events are MAJOR markers of the passage of years. It is common for grandparents to come from afar to be present, and in Tsukuba, parents often go out in the middle of the night to stake out a good place to put down their plastic sheet for the next morning’s festivities. You can get a glimpse of what goes on at an UNDOKAI on YouTube.

If you turn on  the TV on  a Sports Day morning, you will most probably see some of Japan’s Olympic medalists and other celebrated athletes giving workshops for schoolchildren. Two years ago I remember watching scenes of little Aiko (the daughter of the Crown Prince and Princess) running (victoriously, of course) in her first Sports Festival.

Many Tsukubans set aside time every year during the second weekend in October to attend Tsukuba University’s three day Culture Festival. All of those who do have their own favorite attractions. For me, there is the music, especially the jazz cafe and the Andean Folk Music Troupe. With a wide range of cheap and delicious foods, live music in all genres, arcade games, scientific displays, and technological exhibitions all served up with youthful enthusiasm, for me the GAKUEN-SAI is the true TSUKUBA FESTIVAL (Tsukuba Matsuri).

As I have written before, one noticeable thing for many graduates of foreign universities is the lack of any political or INTELLECTUAL presence in the Tsukuba University festival. In recent years, however, environmental awareness has started to be felt with several booths selling organic produce or showing data from research on GREENER LIVING. Still walking the length of the campus this weekend, I felt pessimistic about recent calls to lower the voting age in Japan to 18.


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