I just went and did a really silly thing.
I went and lined up with dozens of other parents in a big circle around the school sports ground, clutching zabuton (floor cushions). At exactly the stroke of six, on the count of three, we surged onto the ground sheets in front of us beneath the tents erected for the school sports day (undokai) tomorrow, and grabbed a place for ourselves for the event by placing the zabutons on the ground sheet.
Thanks to Lena leaping forward like a gazelle ahead of the pack I scored a place in the front row. Lena went to find Amy, who had the pins to secure the name tags (yes, the zabuton had to be labeled!). As I sat there on my cushions, congratulating myself for my clever 4-cushion 'L' shape cushion placement, which I hope will discourage neighbors nabbing a place in the empty space of the 'L', I thought, "Why did we all bother to come here and do this tonight, when we could have just all come tomorrow morning and done the same thing?" Then I wouldn't have to worry about my zabutons getting rained on, as happened the year I missed the undokai because Erica had been born three days earlier.
As the PTA VP is at this very moment sitting on the floor in his jammies practicing his bass guitar, I have access to the answers to a Japanese conundrum for once in my life!
In years previous, the rule was that you could save a place for yourself starting from 6am on the morning of the undokai. However, increasing amounts of people were sneaking into the school grounds after dark the night before to secure a place, leaving the more obedient early birds who got up in time for the 6am start frustrated.
After passing out a survey and discussing it endlessly, the PTA finally came to the unanimous decision to adopt the above method.
We left the house at 5:50, and arrived just in time, literally - not five seconds after I squeezed between two bulky men (only I have the height and presence to do that, being a gaijin works for some things!) the 'start' gun went off, and the first event of the undokai, the Oya-zabuton-dash began!
K said many people had turned up as early as 5 o'clock. Actually, I went to Baachan's to pick up extra zabutons about that time (all ours were ruined in the above-mentioned rain) and saw people biking and walking towards the school. We started to get a bit anxious then, with that "Oh no, everyone else is doing something maybe I should be too" feeling, but I thought, bugger that, and insisted we go home and wait until 6 like Daddy said. Surely a space would be left somewhere for us - I'm not fussy about where, because between playing with Erica and running here and there to get the best video shot, I spend very little time in the chosen spot anyway.
So we arrived at approximately 5:57 and I saw a line of people ringed around the outside of the gym. I dutifully lined up along with them, only to be told that the 'zabuton gumi' (cushion group) were actually lined up on the other side of the building, around the sports ground. The 'shikimono gumi' (ground sheet group) had to wait in a wider circle well outside the sports ground. They are the ones who get together with their friends on a large ground sheet placed next to the school buildings (ie, not under the tents) and make a day of it - up until two years ago some of them would even bring barbecue sets and grill away under the hot sun, until that was banned. Now they are stuck with obentos like the rest of us, but they make up for it with beer. Many start drinking as soon as they arrive and are well pickled by lunchtime. Our school still allows this, but another school actually banned eating and drinking outside of the lunch hour in order to dissuade the early morning drinkers. You may wonder why they just didn't ban beer, but then the ordinary folk wouldn't be able to enjoy a nice cool beer with their lunch.
I won't be drinking tomorrow, I'm enjoying a nice cool beer now!