Hello everybody!! 久しぶり(hisashiburi)!! Time is flying by for me in Japan. One second I’m participating in the jonansen (June 1st) the next second it’s July and I’m eating a delicious burger and fries to celebrate America’s birthday. Therefore the ‘lateness’ of this blog isn’t really late at all considering I’m writing it 5 days and one second after…
Right so as I wrote at the end of my last blog, this time I’m going to write about my awesome experience participating in the jonansen, simply put a sports competition between two schools, 上智 jochi and 南山 nanzan, the sen refers to “battle” or “competition”. BUT, and this is a big but (thus the capitalization) the whole experience was so much more. I actually truly felt like I was participating and understanding Japanese culture, not ‘tourist Japan culture’ as foreign exchange student or as a visitor, but real, original, 当たり前 atarimae Japanese culture.
Background: The full title of this event is 上智大学・南山大学総合対抗運動競技大会 jochidaigaku nanzandaigaku sougoutaikouundoukyougitaikai. 上智大学 jochidaigaku is the name of the college I’m attending. 南山大学 nanzandaigaku is the name of the college we compete with. 総合 sougou is kind of like collaboration. 対抗 taikou lends the meaning of having two different sides. 運動 undou is movement or physical exercise. 競技 kyougi is game or match. Lastly 大会 taikai is tournament. If you wanted to roughly translate this into English, it would be something along the lines of “Jochi University and Nanzan University, a collaboration of two opposing teams competing in a physical exercise tournament” OR “Jochi University vs Nanzan University Sports Festival.” Yeah, the second one rolls off the tongue a tad bit smoother.
Put briefly, the sports teams of Nanzan and Jochi gather (the location rotates between the two colleges every year) and compete against each other. This would be difficult to organize in America since college sports typically have “seasons” in which they compete but sports clubs, like any other club, are year round in Japan. These two schools are not the only ones who compete in this type of event, other schools also compete with each other. This year marked the 54th jonansen which was set to be held at Nanzan, however, since this year is Jochi’s 100th anniversary year, an exception was made.
You may be wondering how on earth I’m going to write an entire blog based on the one game I participated in, but the jonansen was so much more than just one game and there are other events that the athletes participate in as well. And like I said above, to me this was an amazing chance to actually participate in Japanese culture as a sports’ club member, not as a tourists or exchange student.
Part I: The first “event” of the jonansen took place a few weeks before the games. It was a gathering of all the sports club members to cheer each other on. Just like in America there are official school sports teams as well as the equivalent of intramural teams. 部活動 bukatsudo are the official school teams, and you can tell because of the character部 placed after the sport. For example, I am a member of the 女子バスケット部 joshi baskettobu (Girl’s Basketball Club). サークル活動 sakuru katsudo are more similar to intramural style clubs. For the jonansen only official school sports, bukatsudo, participate.
Normally the attire for this event is a black suit, very specific, must be black (and a suit of course). I do not own a black suit, in Japan or in America, but I got lucky. Because this year is the 100th anniversary of Sophia (Jochi is the Japanese name, while Sophia is the “English” name), the alumni of the sports clubs bought us all these super nice maroon polo’s with a logo on the side “Sophia University 100th, Sophia Athlete” which we get to keep! The dress code was then changed to this awesome polo shirt paired with suit bottoms (skirt or pants). Fortunately I did have a nice black skirt (that I randomly bought in Japan at a Forever 21 months ago) so I was all set to go.
This event was held at a cafeteria at the school. After everyone was seated at tables, various members of the school…government?… (excuse me while I fail at English), each took turns giving a short-ish speech about the upcoming competition. This was all in Japanese, so I didn’t understand everything but there are a few key points that were mentioned multiple times. The first was, since this is Sophia’s 100th year anniversary, we should put in an extra effort to win…and it would very sad if in the future we had to say, “yeah, on our 100th anniversary we lost…” This was said kind of comically but also seriously. Another point was about sportsmanship. Yes this is a competition, but more than winning and losing, what’s important is how you win or how you lose. This point really came true for me when it came time for our basketball game, but I’ll get to that in a bit. The last point I caught was that this wasn’t just a competition of individuals, yes it’s important to win your own match, but more than that it’s important to win as a school, therefore we all should support each other and cheer each other on. This was really a cool point, because it made me realize that not only am I a member of the basketball team, but I’m a Sophia athlete too, cool right?
Oh, and by “school…government?” I mean the dean of Sophia and the head of the sports association and the head of the OB会 organization, etc. (OB会 is ‘old boys meeting’ essentially the sports alumni association.)
After those speeches a toast was given and we all ate lots of yummy food provided by the school. Rivaling eating as my favorite part of the event (just kidding…but not really) was what happened after the eating. Each of the captains of the sports teams got up, went to the front, and said a little something along the lines of ‘please cheer for us this year’ or ‘we’ll work hard to win’. The cheer team, consisting of cheerleaders, a band, and a ‘leader’, performed the school song as well as a cheer to encourage us to work hard. One of the interesting things I learned from this event is that all of the cheerleaders are girls. That doesn’t mean they didn’t form pyramids or throw people in the air to do flips (they did) they’re just all females. My Japanese friends were surprised when I explained that in America there are also guy cheerleaders who are great for helping with the lifting and the throwing of people into the air. The ‘leader’ is a guy who does a specialized chant cheer for the opening and closing ceremonies. It was an unusual experience for me, and I had to keep from laughing at first because the chant style and the actions are just so foreign from what I’m used to. After I accepted the “foreignality” of it (excuse my English) the leaders’ chants were pretty cool.
That was the end of the first event.
Part II: The jonansen took place over the weekend of May 31st to June 2nd. The opening ceremony was held on May 31st at Yoyogi Stadium near Harajuku Station in Tokyo. We were in the smaller of the two stadiums, but it was still pretty sweet. The play area (English term…?) is set up as a basketball court because that was the opening game of the competition, the boys’ basketball game.
The very first part was the bringing in of the flags. It was pretty cool as the flags from both schools were marched into the stadium.
The first part was fairly similar to the previous event; the head peoples (sorry for my English) of each school were announced and then a few stood up and gave a speech to the participants. All of the Nanzan participants and Sophia participants were present at this point.
After this a representative student from each school came forward to exchange school flags…? I’m not actually sure what they were, but in description they were two pieces of cloth with the school names on them. This was all done very formally. (The dress code for this event is again black suits, but we got to wear our cool polo shirts).
After this (if I’m remembering correctly) the ‘leaders’ both performed their chants. It was difficult for me to understand this part, for though the Japanese wasn’t too complicated the style of the chanting was rather difficult to understand. Essentially each ‘leader’, as a representative of the school, was wishing the other side good luck in the tournament, cheering on both their own school as well as the other school. There was a series of actions to go along with each phrase and the bass drum beat out certain action as well. Though I found the actions rather comical at first the meaning behind this exchange was sweet.
Then the cheer teams each performed. As mentioned above, cheer teams are all females. This made the pyramids and tricks doubly impressive, at least in my opinion. The cheers themselves are very similar to what you would see in America, loud peppy music, pompoms, letters spelling out school names and such. One of the cool things I hadn’t seen before was the spelling of letters with pompoms. It may seem easy, but everyone just thrusts out there pompoms at the same time and everyone has to get theirs in the right position or the letter would look off. During the cheers the audience was cheering and clapping along to the rhythm, very active! It was pretty cool.
After this the dance team from Sophia performed. By dance team I mean formal (actual…?) dance. There was waltz and the cha-cha (if I’m remembering correctly). Not much to say about this except I enjoyed the performance.
There were then some closing words and finishing up the ‘ceremony’ and then was the opening competition, the boys’ basketball game! The girls’ basketball team was in charge of doing the scorekeeping, score boards, timer, buzzers, etc. At first I thought this would be really cool to do…then I realized that all of the instructions and labels on the equipment were, of course, in Japanese. Fortunately my team mates helped me in the choosing the easiest job, the buzzer and the possession arrow. Thanks to them I was able to perform mostly well. The game play itself is pretty much the same as in America, but the crowd is crazy, in a good way. During practically the entire game the crowd was cheering super loud and smacking together these blow-up sticks/tubes, not sure what to call them. It was super loud the entire game and difficult to hear what anyone was saying. Plus it didn’t matter how much one team was winning or losing by, the cheering was so loud after every bucket you’d think each one was the game winner! And then when it came to free throws everyone would be quiet, super eerie when all of the sudden the loud, cheering audience disappears. It was a super close game with the leading team switching quite a bit, but in the end Sophia won, yay!!
After the game was an OBOG会 for the basketball team. Usually this event isn’t held at this time, but because this was the 100th anniversary of Sophia it occurred. OBOG is ‘old boys old girls’ and the 会kai is meeting, so essentially an alumni meeting. (There are also OB and OG試合shiai or games where the past members return and play a game/scrimmage with the current members.) There was a lot of food and a lot of beer. The ages of the alumni who came ranged from older men with greying hair to people who looked like they graduated recently. Mostly I just talked with my teammates because my Japanese isn’t very good, but a few times I talked with some of the alumni, in a group with my teammates, and we had some interesting conversations (interesting more in the comedic way). The girls’ team left a little early because we had early practice the next day to prepare for our game on Sunday. As we left everyone wished us luck for our game.
There weren’t any official events on Saturday outside of individual games, but we had practice in the morning at a separate location (the gym was being sued for the competition). My friend watched the lacrosse game on Saturday and she said it was a close game and the audience was super energetic as well.
Sunday is when our game, the girls’ basketball game, took place. (Only the boys’ basketball game was held at Yoyogi stadium because it was the opening game for the 100th anniversary of Sophia. All other events were, and are normally, held at Sophia (or Nanzan)).
Part III: Our game!! The game against Nanzan was an awesome experience for me. This time the crazy loud cheering crowd was for me and my teammates. After every bucket there was a roar from the crowd that gave one a boost of energy to keep playing. The only problematic thing about the cheering is that you could hardly hear your teammates above the roar of the crowd so on court communication was rather difficult.
We ended up losing the game, which was a bummer, but remember what I said up above about the important thing not being winning or losing but how you win or lose? Even though we ended up losing the game, honestly I felt like we won. Not in the way of scoring but in the sense of accomplishment and playing one’s heart out. In my years of playing basketball I often heard the phrase “leave everything on the court.” Essential you give everything you have in a game, energy, skill, etc. That way, even if you lose, you won’t have any regrets because you gave everything you had. Honestly speaking I don’t think I ever accomplished this. In games, when you’re down by so many points, it’s difficult to bring your spirits up and keep fighting. In the opposite situation, when you’re winning by so many points it’s easy to just play the rest of the game relaxed. Even in the close games when you’re up you’re up and when you’re down you’re down, the score has a huge impact on your ability to keep fighting and working hard. And yes, I worked hard in every basketball game, but this was the first time where I truly feel I left everything on the court and had no regrets about losing. From the beginning of the game to the end of the game, even when I was tired and felt like I had to rest or slow down, the cheering crowd helped me to pull energy out of somewhere (to this day I still have no idea from where) and keep hustling, whether it was to lock down and play tough defense or to battle in the low post on offense. Even the last quarter of the game (quarters are 10 minutes) when were down by double digits, we kept fighting as if each basket counted, as if each basket could win us the game. We were able to come back a bit before the end, but we lost. But even though we lost I felt a huge sense of accomplishment because we all left our everything out on that court. When I look back on this game I don’t feel regrets, I feel proud of what my team gave and accomplished on that court.
Enough about feelings and sentimentality (though I do mean every word no matter how cheesy it sounds), let’s move on.
Part IV: The last official part of the weekend of the sports festival was the closing ceremony. It pretty much mirrored the opening ceremony; the school heads were introduced and said words of congratulations to the players for working hard, the ‘leaders’ (by the way, the reason I keep putting this in quotations is because I’m not actually sure what this role is called, this is just what I decided to refer to it as) did their chants, dress code was black suits, etc. Something unique to the closing ceremony was the recitation of the results. The sport, the score of the game, and the winning team was read out in front of the players. (Only 4-5 people from each team were allowed to attend this event, while everyone attended the opening ceremony). There were two bass drums, one placed on each side of the auditorium (one by Sophia students the other by the Nanzan students) and on whichever side won that particular match the bass drum would do this super awesome sounding drum roll into giant pounding sounds that reverberated throughout. The results were pretty even but Sophia won! Yay, we won’t have to be embarrassed in future years and can proudly say we won the jonansen on the 100th anniversary of Sophia!
There was also a video of the whole event put together by one of the clubs on campus that highlighted both Nanzan and Sophia players in different sports. It was pretty cool to watch all of the different sports clubs at Sophia compete cause there were many that weren’t available through my high school and aren’t the typical sports at American colleges. For example there was both European style archery as well as Japanese traditional archery, there was judo and kendo and fencing and ping pong as well as rugby. Of course there was also basketball, soccer, American football, lacrosse, volleyball, tennis, track and swimming, to name a few. There is also a sport called “handball” (it might have a different English name) that I had never heard of before. The trophy and certificate for winning was handed over officially to the student representative of Sophia and the representative from Nanzan was congratulated for working hard. (Whenever I say that something was said I’m not 100% sure cause everything was in Japanese, but I tried my best to understand what I could.) And with that the jonansen weekend was complete…
or was it…?
Part V: Interschool bonding and “let’s get along and get to know each other so we can have good relations between our schools” slash “let’s celebrate and party” was the last event of the weekend. Essentially what I think I figured out was that each of the sports teams from the different schools get together at an establishment and have a party to celebrate the completion of the jonansen sports festival. The idea of doing this was actual pretty foreign for me considering the fact that it was the basketball teams from Sophia and Nanzan actively getting to know each other and becoming friends. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like this in America. I mean there were situations where you knew the other players on different teams or were friends with them from basketball camps or other leagues, but there was never anything organized specifically after competitions to facilitate team relations.
It was a 飲み会nomikai (a drinking party) and there was delicious food as well, but the focus of the evening was creating ties between the two teams. I was super super nervous before going to this event because while my teammates were there I knew that I was going to be in a room with 50+ Japanese people where I was the only foreigner…a;lksdjflkasjflkjsd;lfk
However the night turned out to be really fun. I don’t mean to have a big ego here or anything, but from the get-go the girls from Nanzan came over and talked to me, wanted to take pictures with me, asked me questions about how I like Japan and how I came to play basketball, etc. What I found out from talking to them is that Japanese people (at least the one’s I talked to) think America is really cool and that Japan is not cool. I love America and all but I think Japan is really cool and awesome and they seemed to appreciate that. The conversations went on for a while with people coming and going, the teams intermingling (Sophia and Nanzan, the girls and the guys teams). Then the girls from Nanzan brought over one of their managers who had lived in Canada for 4-5 years when she was younger, so as a child she was able to pick up English fairly well. The Nanzan girls encouraged us to speak English, so we did, and they thought it was so cool and were really proud of their manager for being able to speak English. We talked for a while, eventually sitting down and as people would pass on their way to and from getting a drink or going to talk to someone they would stop by and listen to us speaking in English.
Then the Nanzan girls brought over a player from the boys’ team who actually spent 14 years (I think) in America when he was growing up before moving to Japan. The three of us then continued to talk for the rest of the time about various things in America and in Japan with many people stopping by to listen and comment. It was a relief to be able to speak relaxingly in English for a while and that calmed my nerves so I was okay when I needed to speak Japanese too.
I was able to meet many people that night and everyone was super nice even though my Japanese probably had many mistakes. To step back into a larger context I really felt like I was a part of something in Japan. Not only was I a member of the girls’ basketball team at my school, but I was a part of Japanese culture… Garr, this is not coming out right and it’s really difficult to put into words. If you imagine a snow globe, most of my time in Japan I felt like I was outside of the snow globe. Yes I was observing Japanese culture and meeting Japanese people, but I was an exchange student and I felt that that separated me from participating as anything other than a foreigner. This time I actually felt like I was within the snow globe, a part of what was going on inside, not participating in Japanese culture, but being in Japanese culture. I think that’s the best explanation I can give at this point.
To end the night we walked back to the hotel the Nanzan students were staying at and saw them off (they were taking the night bus back to Nagoya). I was sad to see them go and wished they were in Tokyo so I could hang out with them more.
Part VI: The final part of the jonansen was much like the very first event, a few weeks after the sports festival, the sports club members from Sophia who had participated in the event all gathered at one of the school cafeterias, heard words from the school head people (I seriously need to remember the English word for this), toasted to the successful completion of the event as well as the victory by Sophia, and then ate delicious food. Again the dress code was black suit bottoms and our cool polo shirts. This time when the team captains each stood up front to say a few words it was a report of their game, a thank you for cheering them on, as well as a confirmation that they would continue to work hard for next year and to please continue to cheer them on.
It was a simple ending to what had been a once in a lifetime opportunity for me.
Thank you for reading!
Here are some more pictures from the various events. The guys in the black in front of the cheerleaders are the ‘leaders’ I was talking about. The last picture is handball, the sports I didn’t know existed.