Living in Japan

A Glimpse Into the Holiday That Fosters Healthy Minds and Bodies

Catch a glimpse of the mini-Olympics held once a year in every municipality across Japan. And yes, the Sports Day looks very much like the anime versions, a day filled with cheer and competition. 

Japanese kids live active lives, from cleaning their own schools to the never-ending cram school sessions. It’s no wonder the practice of fostering healthy minds and bodies is a national holiday. 

A holiday-inspired by the Olympics

Did you know that the Olympics actually inspired the mini Olympics of Sports Day? The first Health and Sports Day was held on October 10, 1966, two years after the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Even though the international competition was supposed to be held during the summer season, it was scheduled in October to avoid Japan’s unpredictable weather in summer. 

Following the Olympics’ schedule, the Health and Sports Day, also called Health-Sports Day, Sports Day, Taiiku no Hi, or Undokai, was also scheduled in October. With the 1964 Summer Olympics being held from October 10 to 24, Sports Day also took place every year on October 10 from 1966 until 1999. However, the government changed the date to the second Monday of October, in line with the Happy Monday system giving the country a few long weekends throughout the year.

A holiday with meteorologist approval

The main reason the Summer Olympics (and eventually Sports Day) was set in October was the weather. It had to be accommodating towards athletes coming from all over the world and were used to both warm and cold climates. A weather condition that was somewhere in the middle was a suitable option. Therefore, the Olympics organizers consulted meteorologists when the ideal weather would be for outdoor events. Somewhere in the middle of October, when typhoons are at bay and skies are clear yet not too scorching hot, was then advised. It should be noted that the meteorologists were correct, and the Summer Games were held successfully. After this, Sports Day followed the same scheduling. 

It’s a family event

It’s not every day where a national holiday in Japan offers a chance for parents to see how their children interact in school. The holiday is a family event spent within school grounds usually. The day often begins with a flag ceremony followed by a group stretching, much like the morning exercise routine you hear on the radio. From there, you can watch the students engage in traditional track and field, sprinting, and long jump competitions. Other events include sack races, tug of war, ball toss, and obstacle courses. 

As for the parents, they watch and cheer from the sidelines, their blue plastic sheets covering the edges of the field. Parents bring beautifully packed bento boxes, and the family enjoys the meal together during the lunch break. After the competitions, you can also watch performances which showcase the students’ talents. 

There is a version of Sports Day in other countries, and parents often get involved, bringing the competitive spirit even higher. We joined a couple in a Montessori school and can personally attest to the unspoken rivalry among parents while they battle for “whose child is the best.” We will be attending our first undokai this year as our daughter has entered elementary school. She has already shared the events they have in store for the big day. I haven’t confirmed, though, if her school is one of those that subject the parents to join the relay race or not. Knowing how competitive this country can get, we already know to expect great pressure on the kids (and possibly on us). 

Sports Day for the community

The holiday is not limited to schools, and everyone is encouraged to partake in the community-held one. You can head on over to your nearest park, and chances are, there will be a Sports Day festival happening. You can get a simple health check through a machine of your physical strength or get some tips from volunteer counselors to following a more healthy lifestyle. Kids can also engage in games and activities like bowling, horseback riding, or jumping on a trampoline. 

Sports Day 2021 is not on October

When Japan got the honor of hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics, it goes without saying that the date of that year’s Sports Day would also change. Since the multi-sport event was scheduled to begin on July 24, 2020, Sports Day that year was also celebrated on that day. And when the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Olympics to July 23 until August 8, 2021, Sports Day this year is on July 23 as well. 

Don’t forget to practice social distancing, hand hygiene, and wear a mask to make the most out of this year’s Taiiku no Hi. Whether you’re cheering on your child in school or joining the community event, the day serves as an excellent reminder that health is wealth. 

Hana is a freelance writer, finance analyst, and chef who pursues various hobbies. She aspires to be a philanthropist who helps out others in any way she can.

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