by Jess Stayton, Greenheart Travel High School Abroad participant
Although the actual school day in Japan is similar to what students experience in America, the school events are very different. I haven’t the time to describe them all, (I definitely haven’t experienced them all, either,) but two big events that happen at Japanese schools, which we don’t have in America, are the gakuensai (school festival), and the kyugi taikai (ball game competition).
The school festival isn’t anything like the American idea of what a festival would be like. There is no parade, and each school decides the date, so there might be festivals for different schools on different days. It also occurs at school, which gives the festival a very different atmosphere from what most Americans would imagine. When I went to my school festival, it was a lot of fun, but very different from what I had imagined, even though I already had a good idea of what would happen.
For the school festival, each class chooses to do some sort of event, or shop. This can be anything from a class restaurant to a display of winning ikebana (flower arrangements). The only limit is the imagination. (Although of course students must obey school rules, and the law.) Each class sets up their chosen activity in their classroom, and usually also decorates the area around the door. The school is decorated, also by students. At my school, this involved a lot of colored streamers and posters. The festival occurs during a weekend, in late August or early September. Two schools might not have the school festival on the same weekend, but the school festival, no matter the school, always happens around the same time of year. It lasts the whole weekend, and students spend a lot of time preparing for it. During the festival, they work in shifts throughout the weekend. Since I didn’t get to actually participate in the festival, (it was the first weekend after I arrived in Japan) I don’t know how much work each student actually does, but I suspect that’s it’s more fun than anything else. There are about 40 students in each class, and not many of the classes picked activities that required a lot of work. I saw quite a few students enjoying themselves at the festival, so I don’t think the work is all that onerous.
I went to my school festival with my previous host family. When I first got there, I was surprised by how many visitors there were. It was very crowded, and quite noisy. I thought that only people who knew or were related to a student would come, because that’s what usually happens at events in America. However, there were quite a few people who were probably not related to a student; students from other schools, mothers pushing babies in carriages, etc. There were many people who had come to the school festival ‘just because’, much like I might go to a shopping mall, or a bookstore . In the main hall and directly in front of the school, there were quite a few students selling things; fans, food, drinks, etc. They also sold merchandise with the insignia of my school on them. (I go to a Catholic private school in Japan, and they sell key chains and other things with the name of the school and the school insignia on them, much like colleges do in the U.S.)
First, we went down the hallway and up some stairs to where the classes were, and visited each class. There were quite a few restaurants, and cafes. Unlike real restaurants, the choices were usually limited to two or three kinds of food (baked or bought by the students before the festival, I’m not sure which), and bottled drinks. There were also many classes which displayed different pieces of art or other crafts made by students. I saw some calligraphy, ikebana, and paintings. In some classes these were for sale. Everything was so beautiful, I couldn’t believe that they were made by students. In another room, on the ground floor, there was a big room filled with tables selling different crafts that were, again, made by students. Some of the tables also sold food and items bearing the school insignia. We bought lunch in the main hall and then sat outside to eat it. In the courtyard next to us, different students performed on various instruments, usually guitar. It was an enjoyable end to an exciting day.