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Saturday, Sept. 22, 2007

JAPAN LITE

The stars come out on Sports Day


In Japan "Fall is for reading," but on this island where there are no large print books, most people are too old to read anymore. This doesn't mean, however, that we are not healthy.

Right now, the whole island is talking about just one thing: the school sports festival. I think the reason everyone is talking about the sports festival is because as soon as that is over, they can talk about the fall festival, which is the most exciting event of the year on the island. But first things first.

The school sport festival is not about school sports at all. It's about something else. It all starts with schoolchildren going door to door handing out personal invitations. Please come to our school sports festival, they say, while handing you a program of events and an envelope to make a cash donation at the school grounds when you arrive.

Of course, the children have no idea that they are being used as vehicles to solicit funds but that's OK. The program is full of events, many of which are not sports-related at all such as the dance the kindergarteners do with their mothers, a dance put on by the Women's Club, the Beware of Fire demonstration sponsored by the volunteer fire department, and the Hole in One sponsored by the Old People's Club. The slogan for the sports festival this year is "Do your best, whether we win or lose we are all of the same heart."

I had been informed two days before the festival that I was expected to perform in the dance sponsored by the Women's Club. This is generally how things work around here as I am clueless to my duties in the Women's Club, mainly because I don't belong to it. No matter.

I showed up for my first practice, which was everyone else's second practice. One of the ladies announces excitingly that the flowers had arrived and distributed to each woman two cheer leading pompoms with red and silver streamers on them. Properly petaled, we danced.

I stumbled through the first practice and everyone insisted I was jozu, and I have to admit, I was pretty good. There is a part in the dance where you turn in a circle, lifting up one foot off the ground, knee bent, and somehow come down on the other foot without jumping or hopping.

The ladies all do it very beautifully, but I am a bit like one of the circus horses that bows. I am very jozu at the circus horse bow. As my neighbor Kazu-chan pointed out, this is OK because it will be funny for the people watching.

On the morning of the sports festival, I leave my house at 9 a.m. Rather than practice the dance one more time before leaving, I grab a six-pack of beer and head for the festival. I am walking along the path to the school when I meet the retired postman.

"Aren't you going to the festival?" I ask. "Well, I um . . .," he stammers because he knows he is supposed to be there. "I'm on my way there right now, why don't you come along?"

"Ok," he says and I give him a beer.

We continue along the path to the school and we see the cargo-ship driver. "Are you going to the school festival? I'll come with you," he says, and I hand him a beer.

So I, the postman, and the cargo-ship driver continue up the path to the sports festival. We are almost there when we run into the priest. "Would you like to come with us to the sports festival?"

"Sure," he says and I give him a beer.

Finally, we all arrive at the festival and, much like you do at a pachinko parlor, exchange our cash donations for a gift, which in this case is rolled sushi.

Throughout the day, islanders of different ages, social status and ability, participate together in events where sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Even I find there is a certain self-fulfillment in the circus horse bow.

At the sports festival we all get the chance to be a hero for the day, bringing home our numerous prizes as evidence: Saran wrap, plastic kerosene hand-pumps, and futon beaters.



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