Culture · Culture Shock · Information · Jr. High School Education · Living in Japan · Teaching

Junior High School Bukatsu

Something interesting happened at my junior high school on Friday. It was apparently the day that students had to decide which school club activity (bukatsu 部活)they wanted to participate in. Until Friday, and this is mostly for the first year students, students were able to check out a different club every day. I am not sure about the other students, but first year students were given a piece of paper with a weekly schedule written on it and they were supposed to fill out which club they went to on each day and get that club’s head teacher’s hanko to show that they were actually there. At least their first year, it appears that (at least at the junior high school I work at) that students must participate in a club activity. Club activities are so so so important for Japanese students. Just for fun, I also participate in a club at my school – I’m in the soccer club.

Whenever Japanese junior high and high school students are called upon to introduce themselves, they invariably mention the school sport or activity clubs to which they belong. School club activities start as a part of formal curriculum from fifth and sixth grades of elementary school. In junior high schools there are two types of club activities — those that are part of the formal curriculum and are compulsory, and extracurricular clubs which are optional. The latter are more active in high schools. One survey shows that more than sixty percent of high school students in Japan take part in a school club of some type. The clubs provide opportunities for students to enjoy their hobbies, improve particular skills, and discipline themselves in the process. For many students, clubs are even more important as a way to get to know students in different classes or grades and forge lasting friendships. In order to fulfill specific educational policies or create a distinctive school image, some schools emphasize particular kinds of clubs – my junior high school seems to think a lot of its male and female volleyball teams and the baseball team. For example, some schools seek to strengthen their athletics clubs by attracting suitably talented students from all over the country under a recommendation-based enrollment system. Of course, there are also many students who prefer to pursue interests outside school rather than join a school club, as well as schools where club activities in general are not very popular.

At most schools, clubs are classified as extracurricular activities. Essentially they are managed by the students themselves, led by a club president supported by other club officers such as vice-president and manager. Normally club presidents are students in the higher grades. Guidance is usually given by members of the school teaching staff acting as supervisors or coaches, and sometimes by ex-members-third-year students or graduates who visit their old clubs for practice. Clubs also include representatives from the teaching staff who act as advisors, act as liaisons between the club and the school authorities, and supervise the club’s other external affairs. At most schools, club activities are held after school and, at my school, students practice every day. Most clubs practice for two or three hours after school, though a few opt for morning sessions ( called asa-ren 朝練 ) – my school does both afternoon and morning session. In sports and athletics clubs, practice matches and official matches are held on weekends and holidays. During summer vacation, some clubs hold training camps ( about a week long ) or other intensive practice / activity sessions. Training camps may consist of overnight stays at the school or trips to summer retreats or other facilities equipped for the particular club’s activities.

Anyway, back to the point at hand, I was amused at the process for how students decided which club to participate in. First, each homeroom teacher handed out colored paper to each student (green for first year students, red for second year students, and green for third year students). The colored papers match the color associated with each grade (their track suits are these colors). Students then wrote which club they wanted to participate in as well as their goals and worries about participating in that club. Meanwhile, in the teacher’s room, the following was done:

Each of those folders has the name of a club written on the front and they are tapped to the desks of the school’s principal, vice principal, the social studies teacher, and head science teacher. The next picture is how the first 30 minutes of work happened:

This might not be the most interesting of things to talk about, but just the image of all the folders and then the teachers putting colored pieces of paper in those folders was really amusing to me.


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