Human pyramids continue in Kobe schools as injuries mount to 51, mayor’s pleas to stop unanswered


Schools refuse to stop stacking their students in the name of athletics.

In the month of October Japan celebrates “Sports Day” which is the anniversary of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and a holiday to inspire exercise for all. Around this time, schools all over the country hold Sports Festivals where they take part in a variety of physical activities from dancing to relay races.

However, one controversial act is known as “gymnastic formation” (kumi taiso), in which students climb on top of one another and balance to create pleasing geometric patterns. The most common type of gymnastic formation is the standard human pyramid.

▼ Here, leading mascot Kumamon and friends demonstrate a few different gymnastic formations before an impressive (for Kumamon) jump-rope display

For years now these activities have ignited a firestorm of debate in Japan where the practice is often mandatory, with opponents arguing that it puts children at a great risk of injury for little gain. Supporters, on the other hand, counter those claims with arguments of “Come on,” and “Human pyramids!!!”

▼ This 10-tier human pyramid in Osaka collapsed in 2015, injuring six students, one with a fracture.

In the city of Kobe alone, 51 gymnastic formation-related injuries occurred between January to August of this year, and in the past three years 123 related fractures have been reported. This may lead you to believe that the entire city is being run by the mayor from Jaws who is going to ignore the particular problem until it swims up and bites him in the butt, but actually he has been an active opponent of the sport.

On 2 August, Mayor Kizo Hisamoto requested that the Kobe Board of Education suspend all mandatory gymnastic formations. However, his pleas appeared to have fallen on deaf ears so he addressed the board as well as teachers and principals directly via Twitter after oddly slipping in a humblebrag about his trip to England.

“I just returned to the office after a trip to the U.K. and received a report from the board of education. In gymnastic formation activities of autumn sports festivals, three accidents involving bone fractures occurred in rapid succession, one of which will take four weeks to recover from. What is being done about this? I keep asking. Please, board of education, teachers, and principals of elementary and junior high schools, have the courage to end this.”

Only 20 schools in the city had since voluntarily stopped gymnastic formations, while others continued saying that students have already begun practicing for it. That’s the kind of excuse that would make me roll my eyes had it come from my child, but apparently it works on the level of municipal government.

Some, such as law professor Yasutaka Machimura, have gone as far as saying this practice is illegal. Citing the criminal code, Machimura says schools could be committing “mayhem” and/or “professional negligence resulting in injury or death” by knowingly forcing kids to engage in dangerous and incapacitating activities.

It’s a sentiment that netizens from around Japan were quick to agree with.

“Especially with the mayor speaking out against it. The schools wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in court if they were sued or charged by parents.”
“Is the school board made up of ignorant idiots who must maintain the status quo, even if it’s hurting people?”
“It won’t stop until someone dies, and even then it probably won’t stop.”
“Make the board of education do gymnastic formations and see if they feel safe.”
“I bet the real number of injuries is even higher. Schools always try to cover up these things.”
“Parents of injured kids should call the police.”
“Personally I really enjoyed these activities when I was young, but I do remember a top kid falling and breaking his arm.”

Since most schools have yet to do anything about injuries as a result of these activities, it does appear that it would take some serious legal consequences to precipitate real change. However, it should also be noted that gymnastic formations such as human pyramids are good ways to encourage teamwork and physical fitness. It could also be said that human pyramids don’t necessarily injure people, forcing people to make human pyramids injures people.

And if any human pyramid lobbyist group would like to adopt that cool slogan I just coined, I’m open to negotiation.

Source: Blogos, Hachima Kiko
Top image: YouTube/Nanyakanya News
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