Waseda Festival

Hello again! Please send me your interview questions for the Japanese high school student by Tuesday night (your time) so I can do the interview this Wednesday.

I’ve gotten over my cold, and the weather has finally started to get chilly. The trees haven’t started changing color yet and I’m starting to wonder if Fall is ever going to get here. Apparently this is normal for around here, but I find it bizarre.

This weekend, all our classes were cancelled (yes, we have weekend classes). We all got the weekend off because of the annual Waseda Festival. All schools in Japan have festivals, from elementary to college. From junior high school on, all schools have clubs. During festivals, clubs perform or host other activities around campus. Some of them sell food of various kinds. Waseda Festival is a huge event, where students and community members alike some to see performances and have fun. The Japanese Prime Minister even came, though I didn’t see him.

On the way into campus

On campus, in a huge crowd

Clubs are a very important part of student life. University choirs in the United States are usually classes, as are other activities such as martial arts, dancing, and so on. But in Japanese universities, these activities are all clubs, which are sometimes called “circles”.

Now I’m about to tell you something that might blow your mind. It certainly blew my mind. In Japanese universities, clubs are more important, more difficult, and more time consuming than classes. Let me explain.

Before coming to Japan, I had always heard that college was incredibly easy compared to American college. In the US, school gets progressively harder from elementary to college. After moving from high school to college, classes become more difficult, time consuming, and serious. But here, middle school and high school are both very difficult. Students have to pass examinations to get into middle school and high school. Then they have yet another examination to get into college. Students prepare for these exams by going to an extra school called “cram school”, which is just as terrible as it sounds. It’s more school after school.

However, once they pass the exam and get into a university, things become incredibly easy. Because the grades of most classes only depend on test scores and not attendance or participation, students rarely go to class, and only show up for the tests. There is rarely any homework or any kind of discussion. The classes are lecture based. Even in my classes, some of which are taught in English, are this way. I was shocked to find out that my intensive Japanese class has no homework at all.

After two years of studying Japanese intensively as well as taking advanced culture classes back at PSU, I’m very shocked by this. I spent me first two years of college with my life consumed by homework constantly. And now, I only have a few hours of homework a week, at the most.

So what do students do with their lives? Well the answer to that is clubs. There are hundreds of clubs at Waseda university. If you can think of it, there’s a club for it. People can generally be in only one club at a time because they are such a huge commitment. For example, my club meets for rehearsal three times a week for two or three hours at a time. That’s more than any of my classes. And beyond rehearsal, there are at least two club activities per week, which include trips and drinking parties. And my club is a light one.

There is even a huge building on campus dedicated only to clubs.

The music floor, where students are constantly practicing various instruments

The basement, where a dance team is practicing

Another dance club rehearsing in the dance room

Many clubs go to competitions. The musical ones have performances, and one of the biggest performances is normally at Waseda Festival. They often have club alumni, who have sometimes gone on to become famous, come back and teach them. Your club members become like your family, and so you spend most of your time with them. People don’t make friends in classes, they make friends in clubs.

My club, one of the choirs, didn’t do anything for Waseda Festival. I joined the one with the smallest amount of commitment, afraid that the language barrier would stress me out. Even though we didn’t perform at the Festival, it still takes up a lot of my time. I’m the only foreigner, so it’s been difficult to feel accepted in the group, but I’m working on it.

My choir rehearsing in our humid little room

Back to the Waseda Festival. Here are some of the performances and activities I saw:

Juggling Club

Pantomime Club

K-Pop cover dance group performing Gangnam Style

I believe this is a club dedicated to “Super Sentai”, which is a lot like Power Rangers

Traditional dance performance

Waseda’s male cheerleading group, “Shockers”

I couldn’t read the guidebook very well, so I wasn’t sure what was going on during the festival. But the atmosphere around campus was amazing. Everyone was having an amazing time, watching and supporting each other. In my experience in America, we never have events like this for the whole school. Not in high school or college. I don’t know anything about the groups and clubs at my university.

What do you think about the importance of clubs? Could the Japanese focus on clubs rather than classes be harmful or beneficial? Are festivals like this a good idea, or a waste of time? Who do you suppose they have events like this in Japan, but not in the US?

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7 thoughts on “Waseda Festival

  1. Hi! I’m Lauren from Portland Lutheran High School. I have a few questions for you. 1- How long do they spend at school? 2- Would they rather play sports or do school work? 3- What classes do they take? 4- How many students are in the school/classes? 5- How many classes do they take? 6- What do they do on the weekends? Are they allowed to go out to parties or friends houses? 7- Are they allowed to have boyfriend/girlfriends? 8- Is there a lot of pressure to go to college? Thank you for taking the time and answering our questions!

  2. Hello! I’m Louisa Gan in Portland Lutheran School. Here are some questions for your interview 🙂 At what time does your school ending everyday? what do you guys normally do after school? which school club are you in? what do you think is the most intereting thing in your most recent ć­Šćœ’ç„­, and what did your class do? what do you think are the special characteristics of Japanese guys/girls?

  3. Hi my name is Samantha I’m from Portland Lutheran and I was wondering if the clubs different in your article totally different to the clubs of US Schools? I’m responding to your questions. I believe that the importance of clubs probably help the students get used to helping people in the real, working world. There are many different things that can break down a club and if they learn to work against/with those forces then they may have a better chance of succeeding in the real world. Their focus may have a harmful effect to their academic and social life become strained. I think that their academic might suffer but do they have bad grades ever? Their social life might become strain because of major drama or other troubles in the club. I like the festival. No school for a day or however long. I say its good 🙂 I think the club members may help put this on.

    • Though the subjects of the clubs are similar to US clubs, I’d say that the structure of clubs in Japan is entirely different. You’re definitely right about it helping them for the workplace. I should have talked about this, but I’ve noticed that they have a very organized, hierarchical structure, which is exactly like a Japanese workplace. Even though they spend time in clubs, I don’t think they get bad grades because of it. In college at least, the classes are so easy that it isn’t an issue.

  4. Hi! I’m Portland Lutheran High School student Morgan Sprengle. I have read few of your blogs and they are very interesting! I wanted to ask about the sports activities. What kind of sports do you play in Japan? Do you have to have tryouts for teams? How far do you have to travel for games on average? And what is your school mascot?

    Thanks for posting!

    • Hello my name is Hana and I’m a Portland Lutheran Student. 🙂 I had a few questions for the interview: 1. Do you enjoy any American music, if so who? 2. If I were to visit Japan, where should I go sightseeing? 3. What is your favorite noodle recipe and could I get a copy of it? I would very much enjoy cooking an awesome Japanese meal for my family. Thanks! 🙂

    • hello! im Portland Lutheran High School student Bailey Caudell and i have a couple questions for you as well. My first question is how important are relationships in highschool? And by that i mean relationships with family as well as boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. My second question is what do high school student like to do in their free time? My last question is do all highschool in japan have a uniform dress code? Or can students wear what they want? thanks for sharing your experience with us!

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