By Hayato Kimori
“Ganbareee! Ikeee!” There are lots of loud cheers in Japanese in an elementary school in Shimanto-town, Yoneoku. About 300 people who are from children to elder are divided into three teams, red, blue, and yellow. They compete through running, mock cavalry battle (Kibasen) and scavenger hunt (Karimonokyoso) and others with coopering with each member of the same team in “International Sports Festival.”
The picture above was taken in the International Sports Festival on June 2, 2019. You can see about 200 people who not only of different ages but have different nationalities. You could find many students in the picture. But in actuality, there are 40 students in Yoneoku elementary school. The children in the picture, they gather from Yoneoku and the other elementary schools in this town for this event. This is the reason why they hold “International Sports Festival.”
“During the event, we played games with the kids and generally had a fun time. Everyone was very friendly, and the food was fantastic. Were I still in Kochi, I would go again without a doubt.” the exchange student who returned to the country already said.
This International Sports Festival produced by Kokusai-chaya, the club in Kochi university and local people who live around this rural area.
Yoneoku elementary school is in Shimanto-town. This town has much beautiful nature that makes us feel missing. Looking around, you see rice fields and mountains, and you hear the birds sing. There is also the river, named Shimanto river, flows through the town. This river is one of Japan’s three most clear river. The scenery which has the bridge, a so-called “chinkabashi,” crossing on the Shimanto river would probably be moving you.
In this town, International sports festival has been holding a year for eight years since 2012 by university students who belong to Kokusai-Chaya and local people. The students at Kochi university organize Kokusai-Chaya. They are making events to be able to communicate with not only university students and exchange students but also local people. They make various events such as Halloween party, River party, Making rice cake party.
Mr. Sakayama said he used to be the originator of International Sports Festival.
“When “Kokusai-Chaya” was established, they and Shimanto local people have a slogan that we would like to cheer up both the world and rural area in Kochi. They guessed that approaching to the depopulation of Kochi is connected to solving world issues. Most exchange students might well return to their own country without touching local people who live in Shimanto town.”
Holding the International Sports Festival, they were able to deal with those problems, they thought. Then they began to produce the International Sports festival in Nanasato school. But as being famous, there is not enough area in the field in this school. They had to change the school where International Sports Festival were able to hold from Nanasato to Yoneoku.
They start to plan about the date, the budget, place and other important things to hold the International Sports Festival for about eight months. The students initially received a participation fee for the event, then they and local people plan to produce it. Now Shimanto town office gives them the subsidy to manage the event. This event is becoming more prominent.
Currently, they have had this event include a sightseeing tour of this town and a homestay on the day before the International Sports Festival. The participants can visit great places like the chinkabashi in Shimanto town. And what is more, they can have the experience that its local people by doing a homestay with talking with them more. Kokusai-Chaya is keeping on trying to make it better.
“I had the opportunity to do a homestay as well as join in on the event. I had a fantastic time during both. It was nice to get to visit a more rural area and get a glimpse into the way of life there. My host family even took us out to see fireflies, which was a first for me.” a Sweedish exchange student said.
As you know from this comment, they have exchange students to know about Kochi, Shimanto-town, and have an enjoyable experience in Kochi with local people. Then they give cheers and fun time to local people as a part of approaching to depopulation.
A couple of days later after the event this year, there is an article about the International Sports Festival in Kochi newspaper. According to the report, “exchange students, university students, and residents enjoyed though the International Sports Festival.”
I saw elementary students, their parents, and exchange students talking with smiling after the event finished. I thought that was great. They don’t have the opportunity to communicate with people from other countries. But the International Sports Festival brought them the opportunity, then the people who had not known could meet each other in Shimanto-town. It is going to keep on giving them a place of encounter.