Why You Should Attend Japanese School Festivals
Cultural festivals (or bunkasai) are a huge event for schools and universities in Japan. Students and teachers alike anticipate this celebration months ahead (no kidding, preparations usually start already six months prior) and you can see the month-long effort.
These festivals are a next level open-day event. In fact, the Japanese Ministry of Education humbly describes them as “events which aim to use the results of everyday learning to heighten motivation.” From the students and to the homeroom teachers, to the professors, alumni and spontaneous visitors, everyone is motivated to the “results of everyday learning”. The high spirits of everyone participating in the festivities makes it a fun event, as you see the effort everyone has put in their activities and there is no way you won’t get caught up in the momentum.
From kindergarten to high school, each class prepares a different activity. This could be anything – a school journal, a maid café (sometimes this experience is even gender bent), a fortune telling booth, food stalls and sumo-wrestling in the middle of the campus – so long as it will attract visitors and families, and raise a little money while doing so.
Often, these events will take place in a quiet street close to campus, so spread out all the noises and people. Activities for the youngsters and students’ little siblings are also put together so that they can have fun, too. It is heartwarming to see university students building huge puzzles with them on the road, and it is evident both parties enjoys the short break from their work.
But what sticks out during this process is how closely knit Japanese classes are, and how much they work together to make their project look good and credible. The joy and hard work they put into their activates is amazing.
This is probably why these festivals are one of the best settings for many Japanese high school dramas and anime shows. Who wouldn’t get an emotional high by decorating your own school in a festive mode with your friends (and probable crush)? That tensions sometimes escalate is understandable as well, since it is all up to the students to come up with activity and organize without any help from teachers. As a result, strong opinions may collide. This might sound like the ultimate horror for everyone who hates group projects, but I’ve found that in Japan the cultural festival is the exception to the usual group-project fearmongering. Everyone I have asked about the festivals has told me how much fun it is to participate in, as they can work together with their friends.
Once students reach university, their festivals change slightly. University festivals (daigaku-sai) often involve clubs and academic circles showing off their artistic achievements. As a result, when you enter the campus, you will be greeted by a ton of creative talent and won’t know where to look first.
The students even go out of their way to obtain forms from staff groups so that they can guide their visitors and check the lines for the booths, in order for everything to run without disturbances. It creates order out of what would otherwise be chaos.
Walking around a university’s campus, you can see incredibly gifted jazz musicians on one pair of stairs and then, when you enter another building, you can run into a candle-making workshop. They even put together a map and a guide with all clubs listed and a very detailed schedule of events, to make sure you won’t miss out on your favorites. The variety is incredible! Oh and did I mention the food? There are plenty of different food stalls, selling the delicious, uniquely-Japanese street food. Dig into sweet rice cakes, mochi, tayaki, takoyaki, soba, and more! Whichever desire you have, it will be met.
The cultural festival, which takes usually place on November 3rd (Japan’s National Culture Day), or on a Saturday or Sunday (or both) near to this date. All in all, it is something everyone looks forward to. It is like a recreational festivity; one through which working on a common goal strengthens the ties among students and clubs. It is a fun event, which also give many students from other schools the chance to see what life is like at a particular school or college, which helps them for their decisions later on.
It is not uncommon to have the elite universities overflowing with people – so much so that you’ll have to stand in line just to get inside the campus. But what the student teams and organizational groups put together is fascinating to watch and definitely worth the human traffic jam. The event attracts many people from all over the country and is widely covered in the media as well, and is a big part of the Japanese culture.
If you get the chance to visit one (and you definitely should) your image of school spirit will change forever!