A Sendai Family Sports Day was organized recently by Tohoku University and the Young Entrepreneurs Group of the Sendai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The event, aimed at encouraging interaction between international students and local children, was held at Amamiya Campus and attracted some 80 participants.
Hirotake Tarui, head of the YEG's International Communications Committee that initiated the event, said he wanted children like his 10-year-old son to be comfortable around people from different cultures. "In Sendai, unlike Tokyo or Osaka, there are very few opportunities for children to talk to people from other parts of the world," he said. "There are English conversation classes, but I think the interaction at events like this is more meaningful and more fun."
Exchange students from Tohoku University prepared a half dozen games that are popular or native to their home countries. These included a Swedish obstacle race, an Indonesian marble-on-spoon relay, Thai sepak takraw, group skipping and - a game that had everyone giggling - the pencil-in-bottle race. In that Indonesian game, participants had to try to get a pencil dangling down their back, into the mouth of the bottle.
Using English, the students explained and demonstrated each game, partnering the children in a few practice runs before officially starting. With the parents playing along, there was no holding back and the races were highly competitive.
"As an exchange student we don't get to meet many local families, so this was a really nice experience," said Joyce Yang, an IPLA student from Taiwan and one of the student leaders. "The parents were so supportive! Even when the children were shy, the parents encouraged them, and even participated in the games too."
"My daughter was so nervous this morning she didn't want to come. But now she's having fun and talking to everyone," said Endo Yukako, a mom of two. "I played all the games too, except the pencil and bottle one. That one was just too embarrassing!"
In the afternoon, with the children exhausted, it was the turn of the international students to experience some Japanese culture. YEG members introduced local games like kendama and Karuta, as well as traditional arts like calligraphy, mochi and sweets making.
Organisers hope that aside from being a day of fun for the families, this event would lead to more collaborations between Tohoku University and globally-minded community groups.
"Today was a really good day, and I hope we can include international students in more events that the chamber of commerce organizes," said Daisuke Fukuda, vice-head of the YEG's International Communications Committee.
"For our next project, we want to learn about different cultures eating different food and having different diets from us. So we hope to invite muslim students to teach us about halal food," said Fukuda.
Professor Kazuko Suematsu, deputy director of the Global Learning Centre was similarly encouraged. "I hope that we can work more with the YEG and also with other community organisations. We share the same goals of wanting to promote cross cultural relationships in Sendai."
Global Learning Center
Institute for Excellence in Higher Education