From the moment I arrived in Tokyo for the Japan Sports Forum I knew I was in for the experience of a lifetime. Getting off the train at Tokyo station, the scale of the city was obvious; people everywhere, scurrying from one place to another on the maze that is the train system - no pushing, no panic, little noise. Ten wide-eyed Kiwi PE teachers with luggage in tow must have looked a little out of place! New Zealand had been left far behind and some amazing memories were about to be made.
The teachers got to experience PE classes, including watching baseball training, at two Japanese schools (Kita High School Atsugi)
The list of people that had been organised to speak with us was impressive. First was Callian, an ex JET programme member who has made his home in Japan and gave us great insight into the Japanese way of life from a Kiwi perspective. Throughout the week we met a number of young people involved in the JET programme, which offers university graduates the chance to work in Japan.
Representatives from the Rugby World Cup organising company, AIG (chief sponsor of the All Blacks), Japan Paralympic Committee, Education NZ, the New Zealand embassy and Nippon Sports Science University helped to build a picture of the role sport plays in Japanese society and the legacy the RWC and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics are aiming for.
One of the more insightful comments was from the representative from the Japanese Para-Sports Association (JPSA), Kunio Nakamori. He noted that countries like New Zealand have a culture of work, family and leisure, while Japanese culture focuses on just work and family. He hopes that the legacy of the major sporting events will encourage Japanese to look to leisure as a way of enhancing wellbeing.
We took an hour’s train ride from Tokyo to Atsugi, which is one of 13 cities designated as host towns for New Zealand during the Tokyo 2020 games. Deals have been signed with NZ Basketball and Golf NZ for their athletes to use Atsugi as a base for training leading up to Tokyo 2020.
The Atsugi council laid it on for us, with a reception by the deputy mayor, head of the board of education and officials involved in the organisation of the city's host-town bid. After a school visit we were treated to a traditional Japanese dinner. Even the next morning we were accompanied by an official back to the train.
This reminded us of manakitanga, and everywhere we went we felt welcomed by the locals.
Sam Forward teaching students at Oizumi Junior and Senior High School the traditional Maori game whai
We were lucky enough to have two school visits, Oizumi Junior and Senior High School in Nerima, and Kita High School in Atsugi. In Japan, PE is taught to Year 12 and is focused on skills and sports. It is pretty traditional; however, they are introducing a new curriculum currently that includes a wellbeing focus and were interested to hear about how physical education is taught in New Zealand. We had the chance to teach a range of Maori games at both schools; despite the language barrier, both ourselves and the students had a great time.
We were spoilt for Japanese culture throughout our visit. Visits to Buddhist and Shintu temples (with beautiful traditional wedding processions), the surreal experience of Sumo and opportunities to practice judo and kendo. Food in Japan is varied and tasty and always immaculately presented and the Japanese people are respectful and kind and share their great sense of humour once they get to know you.
Nicola describes attending a sumo tournament as a fascinating, if "surreal", experience
I can’t wait to share my experiences of Japan with my students, colleagues and wider PE community. It has been an amazing, overwhelmingly positive experience that I am very grateful for. I have made some lasting connections with the other teachers on the trip and the people we met during the week. It was an outstanding experience that I will never forget.