Sports Day (Tai iku no Hi, 体育の日). this year on Monday October 9th, Commemorates the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Why is this holiday in October?
By Avi Landau
1964- now exactly fifty three years ago, 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 memorably, 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. The current Japanese government is hoping the next Tokyo Olympics- those to be held in 2020- will work the same magic on the Japanese economy and on the national spirit*. This is wishful thinking, especially for the latter, since there are many who feel it obscene that enthusiasm is being whipped up for a sporting event while the areas struck by the great Tsunami of March 11, 2011 are still far from completely recovered).
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 (unfortunately the same will not be true for the next Tokyo Olympics- those to be held in 2020. Should be very rainy and uncomfortable since those games will open in July!).
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. Several 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.
*This is wishful thinking, especially for the latter, since there are many who feel it obscene that enthusiasm is being whipped up for a sporting event while the areas struck by the great Tsunami of March 11, 2011 are still far from completely recovered. Still, Tsukuba University, which has the largest physical education faculty IN THE WORLD, will be reaping in plenty of benefit in the form of greatly increased budgets!