Before studying abroad, I knew that high school festivals were very common in Japan. Students in various classes and clubs work together to prepare something to present for friends, family, and the community to experience, and it’s a great experience for everyone. What I didn’t realize was that college school festivals are also popular in Japan and that Waseda University has the largest one in Japan, with tens of thousands of visitors attending it every year!
The festival was full of lots of things to do, with hundreds of clubs manning food booths, games, and performances. I was able to get drawn as a manga character by one club, listen to several a capella groups, and view traditional and contemporary dances. I had a blast wandering around and seeing all of the things that the festival, called Waseda-sai, had to offer!
What really made this festival a great experience for me, however, was the fact that I was able to participate in it as a student. It helped me to appreciate just how much time and dedication goes into making such a huge event into a big success! I’m in an international club that performs folk dances from several different countries at Waseda-sai each year, and I danced the Soran Bushi. It’s a dance from the Hokkaido region of Japan, and it reflects several aspects of everyday life and labor, specifically fishing and farming, which are things Hokkaido is still known for today. It’s a very powerful dance, and my legs were very sore each day after practice!
Being a part of a club and contributing to such a large event was a great opportunity for me to make friends and feel like I really am a part of Waseda University. As an exchange student, I feel it’s easy to resign to always being on the outside, believing that the school you’re attending isn’t really your own. However, working with the other members of my club and spending time with them outside of practice has given me a great sense of belonging. In Japanese, “nakama” is a word that doesn’t translate very clearly into English. It’s a bit different from “friend”, but it is used to refer to people within your group. These are people who you work and struggle with, and you rely upon your “nakama” as they rely on you. I’m glad to have “nakama” because they help me to know I belong!