April 18, 2012

University Life in Japan: Clubs, Circles and Glow Sticks

Extracurricular activities are a huge part of Japanese school and university life. Most students will belong to a 'club' or 'circle'. The most common types of clubs and circles are typically sports, cultural activities, and foreign languages - probably similar to universities in most other countries. But clubs in Japan are intense. There is a Confucian value that dictates Japanese club culture called the senpai-kohai system - senpai essentially means 'senior', kohai is 'junior'. Until you've earned the title of 'senpai', you have to treat the senior members of the club like they are your masters. It's kind of like the relationship between Wormtail and Voldemort. (Did I really just compare Japanese society to Harry Potter? Too late, can't take it back now.)

Kansai University Sakura tunnel with club and circle posters
On the first day of class at Kansai University, posters and mini-billboards advertising various clubs and circles appeared out of nowhere. Most appeared to have been made in an arts and crafts frenzy involving paint, paper collage, and a whole lot of glitter glue. The fun part is working out what some of the clubs even are - while a few have normal names (Rugby, Kendo, French), most have exotic names, for example, the 'Seahorse Club' (a swimming club... I guess that makes sense?), the 'Infinity Club' (a triathlon club... alright, maybe?), and my favourite, the 'Ducks Club' (English conversation club... nah, I don't get it.)

There were also cheerleaders holding tryouts, which I watched with great excitement (there are no cheerleaders in New Zealand). The Kansai University American Football team are called the Kaisers, and for a moment it looked as though all you had to do to join the squad was wave your pom poms and yell 'Let's go Kaisers!' in a slightly Japanese accent. I was just picturing myself sitting in Japanese class wearing a cute little cheerleader outfit, all ready to live out my Bring it On fantasy, when suddenly they started doing the most amazing lifts and flips and splits and tricks I have ever seen. Thus, the dream was short lived.

Kansai Kaisers Cheerleading Squad. So cute.

It is after class finishes, around about 6pm, that Kansai University really comes to life. Because this is when the meetings, activities, training sessions and practices for clubs and circles begin. Stroll through campus, and you can see the circus club juggling outside the library. The dance club rehearsing in the cafeteria entrance way. You can hear the roars of the Kendo and Naginata clubs coming from the martial arts centre. Peek into classrooms, and hear foreign language circles working on their Spanish and French pronunciation. And then, strangely, a chorus of loud screams and laughs coming from another classroom - a stress relief circle, possibly?

Last night we were walking through campus after dark, and came across a group of about a hundred students, sitting on the lawn, all wearing different coloured glow-in-the-dark bracelets and carrying glow sticks. Every now and then, some members would be chosen to stand up, and run away. A few moments later, other members would follow them into the darkness. What was this? Some sort of strange cult? Nope. It was an epic game of hide and seek tag. And this was a whole circle devoted to it. I just love how that would sound on a job application.
"What extracurricular activities were you involved in?"
"Hide and Seek tag."
"Very impressive! We'd love to have you as part of our team!"

As for me, as a result of my over-indulgence of melon pan over the past month, I have been considering joining the 'Belly Divas'. They are a belly dancing circle.

The Belly Divas.


  1. Belly dancing looks fun, so exotic. Go for it!

  2. I love the harry potter reference! everything always makes much more sense when put into harry potter terms.

  3. Looks like a lot of effort went into their posters - you don't see that kind of advertising at Otago! Do you think a lot of the clubs were similar to those offered by OUSA?

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