Club activities are mandatory content when you are watching a slice-of-life anime that, more usually than not, has a school setting. There is always at least one club mentioned, be it a sports club or music or literature. Many anime, like Chihayafuru and DAYS have their main plot focusing on a school club. Clubs are not just part of the anime, however. They are actually an integral part of the Japanese education system.
These various club activities seen in Japanese anime and manga, are called bukatsu in Japanese. The activities range from sports such as baseball and soccer, to liberal arts and humanities such as karuta, brassband music and more. The dedication of the students to their club’s activities may seem a little strange and odd to people overseas, especially if their own educational system doesn’t adopt a similar approach to extracurricular activities.
Manga.Tokyo will try to explore some of the cultural aspects behind club activities in Japanese schools.
What are Bukatsu / Club activities in the first place?
Japanese refer to clubs with a variety of terms: kurabu katsudou (club activity), bukatsudou (club activity), or saakuru katsudou (circle activity).
A club is basically what the name suggests: a gathering of students that share a common interest. Most club names are basically the name of the specific interest followed by the suffix -bu (club). For example: sakkaa-bu (soccer club) or yakyuu-bu (Baseball club). Others prefer the suffix -kai (association, society) or -doukoukai (amateur association of like-minded people.)
Athletic activities such as basketball or rugby are categorized as undou-bu (Sports clubs), while liberal arts, humanities, and generally every club that doesn’t require excessive athletic abilities are called bunka-bu (cultural clubs.) A cultural club can be a brass-band club like the one found in Sound! Euphonium, a shogi club (the game featured in March Comes Like a Lion) or the doujin game club found in Magic of Stella.
How do clubs work?
In Japanese elementary schools, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has made club activities compulsory by law, but in most junior highs (in some, participation in a club is still compulsory) and in high school the students decide if they want to take part in a club or not.
To join a club, you go through a fairly obvious but official procedure: you have to fill a joining registration document. This document is called nyuubu-todoke (letter of entry registration). The club members are called buin and the leader of each club is called buchou. A teacher is assigned as a supervisor, komon. This teacher – adviser is responsible to look after the members and the activities of the club. Depending on the teacher, she may leave the club to its own devices and only help when it’s necessary, or she could be involved in the activities, contributing to its projects with her technical advice, helpful information, or strong authority to keep the members in line and on target.
Sport clubs often exhibit a very strict hierarchy that makes it hard for junior members to oppose or disobey their seniors. They are usually expected to perform menial tasks for their upperclassmen and take care of the mundane tasks such as equipment carrying and cleaning. This hierarchy may seem very strange to people outside Japan, but it’s all based on the very commonly encountered in anime senpai-kouhai relationship. In Japan, senpai is usually the upperclassman, someone of a higher age, or senior. Kouhai is a protégé or junior. It’s the equivalent of the mentor system, but more strict and already integrated in most societal structures. The mentor system is found at all levels of education, and in sports clubs, businesses, and informal or social organizations.
Once a student joins a club, stays in the club and continues to participate in its activities until graduation. Most senior members are less active in their club duties during their last year of school, because they are preparing for either job hunting or college entrance exams. Many clubs hold salutary events that commemorate their senior’s ‘retirement’ from the club.
Why do students create clubs?
Students create clubs to share a common interest, set a goal regarding that interest, and act together as a group to achieve it. For example, members of the movie or manga club could create their own title, or the basketball team would probably aim to win the regional or national tournament. That doesn’t mean that all clubs set a goal. Many of them focus of enjoying the company of each other while doing the thing they love, like reading clubs. There is no a fixed pattern for the creation of a club. You could see anything from a club researching the occult to a club about knitting anthropomorphic animals.
Many schools provide rooms to serve as the club’s base of operations. There the members can keep all necessary equipment, rest between activities, and change their clothes. They are also used by club members as their own personal retreat, where they can enjoy themselves in private. These rooms are provided by the school for free.
Club activities cost money. Although the school is not charging the students a fee for creating a club, the club is responsible for buying its own equipment, etc. Sometimes they are supported with financial assistance from the school budget and the alumni club, but the most common way is to have a cost of membership that helps will all necessary expenses.
How popular are school clubs in Japan?
Sport clubs in particular are so popular that their national tournaments are often broadcasted on TV. And we are not talking about collegiate basketball here; these are student championships. High school baseball tournaments are held every spring and summer and is considered one of the most popular Japanese seasonal traditions. There are a few cultural club tournaments that get TV coverage as well, like shogi.
National tournaments exist for all sports and cultural clubs that are competitive and can host one (for instance, aikido may be a sport but has no official competitions). Very strong teams or members are often interviewed by the media (TV, papers, journals, etc.) and receive attention from their respective fields as promising talents. Many of them earn the chance to enter the professional scene, and even if they don’t, competition achievements are often said to be advantageous and beneficial during college entrance applications. Sport scholarships are very common in other parts of the world as well.
And, on the other hand, schools that have strong teams are more prestigious and attract more students. These schools are often recognized by professionals and talent scouts regularly visit them in search of talent. Schools with strong teams also have stronger connections with that industry, so if you want to be a professional in that particular sport, you’ll want to attend a particular school. That’s why many times a club is not just a group of people sharing a similar interest, but a shortcut to making it as a professional, and, as a consequence, a shortcut to fame.
What does bukatsu mean to you?
Bukatsu mean different things to different people.
Some consider it a passionate activity through which the members try to achieve a goal that is more important than their individual ambitions. Other consider their club as the perfect way to have fun with your friends. There are also those who use clubs as a way to escape from the mundane learning methods of the school’s curriculum. There is not a fixed definition.
Clubs are as diverse as human beings. There is no correct form of how a club should be. The students and their teachers determine what kind of club they want and they eventually organize their own groups.
So, what is Bukatsu, or club activities? To put it short, it is a group in which the members share the same interests and spend time together doing what the like. The only thing that’s universal among all clubs is that the experience becomes a great memory for all.