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