Teams Compete in Traditional Japanese Sport at CJCC’s First Undokai Sports Festival

The Colgate Japanese Cultural Community (CJCC) hosted an Undokai Sports Festival on Friday, Mar. 24 in the ALANA Cultural Center. It is the first time the CJCC has hosted an Undokai Festival at Colgate University.

Senior Mieko Kim, CJCC President Emeritus and co-organizer of the event, explained the history of Undokai Sports Festivals in Japan and in the USA.

“Undokai (運動会), or ‘Sports Day,’ is a commonly-held school event in Japan which fosters school spirit and comprises of mini sports competitions between teams within the school,” Kim said. “Undokai traces its origins in the Meiji era but became popularized in commemoration of the 1964 Summer Tokyo Olympics. With the immigration of Japanese people, Undokai has also been held in Japanese communities globally, such as in the United States and Latin America.”

The event featured four teams, each wearing different colored armbands, who competed in various events to win prizes. Kim elaborated on the structure of Colgate’s Undokai Festival, which differed slightly from the more common two-team format.

“Our Colgate version of Undokai involved 4 teams and featured traditional Japanese games: a ‘moving basketball game’ (動く玉入れ), the four-legged race (三人四脚リレー), a cardboard box relay race (段ボールリレー), and classic of tug-a-war (綱引き)! All participating teams had the chance to win prizes related to Japanese culture, such as bowls, lanterns, ramen or snacks,” Kim said.

Esther Rosbrook, director of the ALANA Cultural Center, commented on the significance of Colgate hosting their first Undokai Festival.

“It is very exciting for the Colgate University community to celebrate the first Undokai Festival. Exposure to different cultures encourages all community members to become more sensitive to social practices, norms, and traditions. Our campus must understand the different cultures represented on this campus,” Rosbrook said. “Special events like the Undokai festival are exciting opportunities for people to participate in cultural diversity and take the initiative in social interactions with people who may have different identities than ourselves. The Undokai festival can be a recognition of the first step in celebrating different cultures on campus, including Japanese culture.”

First-year Tatsu Nishizawa, president of the CJCC and the other co-organizer of the event, wanted to introduce Colgate students to part of his Japanese heritage. He has warm memories of past Undokai Sports Festivals he’s participated in.

“Every year, on the morning of Undokai day, I woke up to the smell of my mom cooking a large bento (lunch) for the whole family,” Nishizawa said. “Meanwhile, my dad was getting his camera set up in the living room and my sister and I were getting dressed into our PE clothes, all nervous about our races and performances.” 

Nishizawa appreciated the unity Undokai Sports Festivals provided and the camaraderie they fostered.

“Undokai for me was an event that brought my whole family together as we had grandparents and cousins visiting from far away,” Nishizawa said. “It was also an event that fostered unity within my class and school since we spent months preparing for our dances and competitions. On years my team lost, our classrooms were filled with tears afterwards, and on years we won, we hugged and laughed for days. Yet, no matter the result, this day was one of my biggest memories of elementary school and I am happy I got to share this culture with the great Colgate community.”

Sophomore Bri Liddell participated in the event and considers it a highlight of her semester.

“The Undokai festival was one of the most fun events I have been to all semester! Even though my team only came in third place, I am so glad I joined the competition,” Liddell said. “My favorite event was the four-legged race where myself and two other teammates were tied together at the ankle and had to race through an obstacle course. It was an amazing bonding experience and a lot of fun even though I face-planted midway through.”

Sharing Japanese culture and the joy it can carry was the goal of the event. Kim expressed the CJCC’s commitment to hosting events that celebrate Japanese traditions and heritage with Colgate students.

“As a cultural club under ALANA, Colgate Japanese Cultural Community (CJCC)’s goal is to share Japanese culture throughout campus–everyone is welcome to our events. We wanted to introduce Undokai with this mission in mind and host a fun-spirited event for students and their friends to enjoy,” Kim said. “This is CJCC’s first time hosting Undokai, but we hope to continue this annual tradition in future years.”