In Japan, student clubs are firmly ingrained into the fabric of everyday student life. The same can be said about student clubs in the U.S., but there are a few key differences. Not only are clubs more serious in Japan, but the students that participate in them put their hearts into every event/performance. This was made abundantly clear to me when I participated in my university’s student festival. While my circle was preparing for the festival, about 1,000 other circles were preparing as well. These students were building stands, practicing plays, and preparing dances all for the sake of representing their circles and our school with pride.
Club vs. Circle
I would like to clarify a few key terms before we continue because they might cause some confusion. Now, if you ever study abroad in Japan, you will most definitely hear the word “circle” while walking around campus. The word “circle” means club in Japan, but they use this word instead because “club” or “部 (bu)” is reserved for university teams. So, if you want to say, “I want to join a club.” Please, say, “サークルに入りたい”(sakuru ni hairitai). Also, brush up on some Japanese before inquiring about a circle because most students don’t speak that much English and the more Japanese you speak the higher your chances of being allowed to join. The internationally orientated circles will have a few fluent English speaks, so they are always a good option.
The Cost of Joining
While clubs usually are free to join in the U.S., Japanese circles are a different story. Some of the circles can have an administrative entry fee of about 150 dollars or more, but most circles have a reasonable fee of about 60 dollars. The price is highly dependent on the type of activity you want to take part in. For instance, I plan on joining a hiking circle next semester and the activity fee is about 200 dollars per person. The fee is probably high because you get a backpack (which you can keep) and most of the funds go toward renting camping equipment, so that the group can go on trips together. So, please keep your wallet in mind since Japan is a relatively expensive country to live in.
During the last week of September, I joined the Circle WIF (Waseda International Festival) because it was one of the few circles that interested me at Waseda. WIF is a dance circle that focuses on dances from all around the world, which is right up my alley because I love to dance. The only catch is that I haven’t danced in about 2 years, so I was a little rusty, but I knew this was great time to brush the dust off my dancing shoes.
Even though my circle had an amazing line-up of dances this semester, I opted to join Soran Bushi (a traditional dance from Hokkaido). The funny thing about Soran Bushi is that most Japanese student learn how to dance it in middle school, so it’s pretty easy to learn. That being said, mastering Soran Bushi took us about two months because the movements had to be fluid and powerful.
The weeks leading up to Wasedasai, was when I first started to realize how important circles are to Japanese students. For those that are curious, Wasedasai is a two-day event that begins on Saturday and ends on Sunday. However, school is canceled for two days prior to the event because most of the student body takes part in it. It’s basically a huge show case of everything Waseda students love to do and it’s a matter of great pride for those that participate.
Starting in mid-October, our practices increased two-fold. So, instead of having practice twice a week for three hours. I had another practice added onto the two days and every weekend leading to Wasedasai, we had two mandatory rehearsals. To say the least, it was really tiring, but it was worth it in the end because our performance was perfect.
This is the core of the fundamental difference between American University clubs and Japanese circles. At the core of each Japanese circle is the desire to improves one’s self, while also enjoying the things you love. This is done by striving for perfection and giving one’s all. Based on my own personal experiences, American clubs are quite casual, and they don’t require members to participate as frequently. In the end, it’s a matter of cultural ideals that creates such a drastically different perspective on joining and participating in after school activities.