I just got back from the sports festival at one of my schools last year. This was my favorite school of all time. Both the students and teachers were great and I've never felt so welcome at a school. I got a little emotional near the end of the event as I said goodbye to everyone once again.
So what's so amazing about these sports festivals? Japanese schools put a lot of emphasis on responsibilities of the children; especially the 5th and 6th graders, or kou-gaku-nen 高学年 (1-2: 低学年 lower grade level, 3-4: 中学年 middle grade level, 5-6: 高学年 upperclassmen). The 高学年 pretty much run the show. To give you an idea, I'll try to explain everything that is going on all at once.
During the course of the day, spread out between other events, each grade level has races. There are 4 teams: white, blue, yellow, and red, but white and blue are both white and yellow and red are both red regarding the over-all two team system.
The students running are lined up in the middle of the track.
The four ready to go are in position.
The announcer at the microphone is one of the students.
The people holding the goal tape are students.
There are four students at the finish line with 1,2,3 and 4 jerseys. It's their job to take the appropriate person after the race to the right line.
The score board is managed by students
There are two cheerleading teams or more within the track trying to get the audience to make some noise.
The next group of students for the next event are waiting just outside the track.
When an event is over, the cleanup and prep for the next thing is all done by students.
Basically, the teachers are just supervising, leading the classes to line up when they go on next, and shooting the cap gun to start the race.
This kind of responsibility is not just limited to the sports festival. Students clean their classrooms after lunch, which they serve themselves. The 高学年 clean the whole school based on groups that rotate and have different responsibilities. There are groups with other responsibilities that meet every few weeks after school to do things like sort library books, plan morning assembly activities, etc.
The clubs are run by teachers in elementary school, but in middle school its almost all self run. Imagine a soccer club with no adults. Imagine them doing drills and not goofing off. Pretty unbelievable, but that's the power of the sempai-kouhai system (upper-lower classmen). Middle school is 3 years, and the 3rd graders have the power (and size) to keep the younger kids in line. Respect is key.