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Ellie's First Undookai!!

Annual Sports Festival

Saturday, October 6, was Ellie's long awaited undookai, which if literally translated is "exercise gathering." It can be compared to a "field day" in the States, but it is much more involved... the children begin practicing for this event months in advance. The Japanese schools do this in all grade levels up to high school, I believe, and all the family members, including grandparents, come out to cheer for their student.

It began with Jeff reporting at 7:30 with other dads in the morning to help with the set up of this all-day event...

He got himself a special-looking badge... we couldn't read it, but it sure looked important. We're guessing that because of this badge, he had some sort of authority (well, maybe it just says "equipment boy", but it's more fun to think that it says "field day police" or something). You can see that Jeff took this position to heart.


Jeff as Undookai Policeaaa Jeff as Undookai Police

Jeff as the Undookai Police


The Perfect Obentoo

The day before, all the moms were gathering and talking about what they would bring for the all-important "obentoo", or boxed lunch, that would be eaten at the half-way point of the day. They were saying things like, "I don't know if I should fry the chicken the night before, or do it that morning!" I just said to myself, "I'm going to buy mine pre-made at the store and sleep a bit longer!" Well, little did I know that the creating of this day's obentoo is a form of art! As I took out my store bought chicken stuffed into an old tupperware container, I took a peek at the family's lunch next to us. They pulled out this double-decker lunch box of beautifully cooked and decorated meal, brightly colored, and arranged to perfection. Then I noticed that ALL the lunches around me were like that! I had obentoo envy. Oh well. Zack really loved the miniature drumsticks that I got at the 99 yen store:)


Our neighbor's perfect obentoo
Our Undookai neighbor's perfect obentoo picnic lunch


The Main Event

Anyway, on to the main part of the story. There are 3 levels at this school with 2 classes each... the 3's, 4's and 5's. (Ellie is in the 4's even though she is already 5 because the cut-off birthdate is April 1, and her birthday's on May 9th.) Each class performed an exercise routine, a song/dance, a race, and a parent-participation relay, along with performances that all the classes did together. Everyone had on their gym uniform, and the red/white reversible hat. So the competition was the Red vs. White, and they kept score throughout the day.


All the kids wearing red and white hats
All the kids wearing red and white hats, depending on their team color

All the kids wearing red and white headbands
They even wore red and white headbands for part of the activities


Our hearts were bursting with pride as we watched our little girl march onto the field with the rest of her group! She knew the songs very well (and so did we because we heard it at home every day!), and she did great on all the dances and exercise routine. It was really cute to see the children taking it so seriously.

Ellie making a pyramid with her partners
Ellie making a pyramid with her undookai partners

Ellie making a star with her partners
Ellie making a star with her partners

Ellie making a bridge with her partners
Ellie helping to make a bridge

Ellie dancing with decorative taiko drumsticks
Ellie dancing with decorative taiko drumsticks


Ellie participating in a race
Ellie participating in a running race

The relay that I did with Ellie was quite funny... we had to put on monkey ears and tail, jump over a hurdle, jump into hula hoops, and pose like a monkey before grabbing a fruit flag and running back! Too bad there are no pictures to show you of that (whew).

Good Job Kids!

The day ended with the teacher giving a word of encouragement to each child, and a present. Here is Eriko sensei telling Ellie what a great job she did, and she's giving her a hula hoop. The teacher told me how touched she was to see Ellie out there doing such a good job, only having been here for a little over a month. Yep, she did good!!

Ellie receives a gift from her teacher
Ellie receiving a gift from her yochien teacher


Ellie and her kindergarten teacher
Ellie and her kindergarten teacher, Eriko Sensei


After we came home, the kids wanted to play outside, but Jeff and I went straight to bed and fell asleep almost immediately for a nap!! We were exhausted! But what a wonderful memory this was, and to be a part of such an important part of Japanese culture was a treat for us, too.

Our family at Ellie's undookai
Our family at Ellie's very first undookai

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Jeff's column offers a mix of reflections on leadership and fatherhood, as well as news from Asian Access.


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Nozomi's column contains reflections on motherhood, Japanese culture, and ministry.


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