No one can deny that the Japanese education system is tough. Japanese students study hard to meet the demands of the school board and to get the best grades possible in order to get into a good university. After a long day at school – including extensive studying, quizzes, club activities and cleaning duties – many students head straight to a cram school to study even more. On top of that there is still homework left that needs to be done once they finally return home.
Yes, Japanese schools are tough, but thankfully there are a few days in the curriculum of each school that allow the students to unwind and relax at least for one day. Today we want to highlight the two most famous and important school events (next to entrance ceremonies and graduation of course) and give you some insight into the daily life of Japanese students. Details may vary between schools, but the following events can be found at almost every institution. Enjoy!
Sports are important in Japan and especially in schools teachers try to promote physical exercises as much as possible. One of the most important tool for achieving that, next to PE classes and sports clubs, is Sports Day (運動会 undōkai).
It usually takes place in spring or autumn at almost all types of schools. Elementary school kids as well as University students try their best to either participate in fun games or to show off their outstanding physical abilities. In elementary, middle and high school there are numerous events taking place in the course of one day. The younger the kids are, the more fun and game-like are the competitions, for example ball games, tug-o-war or three legged races. Participants compete either as a group or individually and the winner is usually honored and gets a small prize. At this age Sports Day is usually an event for the whole family where siblings and parents will visit the school and cheer on the kids. Of course this also includes a homemade lunch or bento and a relaxing picnic at the end of the day.
In middle and high school the competitions get more competitive and include sports like relay races or football matches. However, the spirit is still the same and on this day the campus is filled with cheering and laughter of the participating students.
One event that might become more important the older the students are is the School Festival (文化祭 bunkasai – also known as Cultural Festival). This event is similar to an open house where not only family members but also prospective and former students visit to get to know a school.
The School Festival is a big event and students organize and prepare for it way in advance. Contrary to some western school festivals, most of the events on that day are organized by the students. Classes as well as clubs are usually given the freedom to decide for themselves what they want to present and how they are going to carry out their plans. Clubs will show off their skills, whereas classes might decide to organize a food stand or a small cafe.
Visitors will go around the campus and try to see and experience as much as possible. Especially prospective students that try to decide which school they want to enroll in look forward to these days. Next to food stands and smaller events there are also special performances as well as a word or two from the principal and teachers.
The main focus of all of these events is teamwork. Japanese society has a strong group mentality and it is important to tighten the bond between the different group members. That might be one of the reasons why school events are important for Japanese culture. The kids acquire certain social skills like cooperation and time management while learning from a young age that they should try their hardest to contribute to the group they belong to.
In the end, the reason for holding school events might not be that important, as long as the students get a chance to relax from the harsh standards of the education system. School events are fun, not only for the participants but also for visitors and spectators, and enrich the general education of the kids.
If you have any experiences with Japanese school events please share your experiences down below. Even if you don’t your input and comments are as always more than welcome.