In a few weeks, schools across Japan are going to hold their annual gakuensai (“school festival”), also often known as the bunkasai (“cultural festival”). The aim of this festival is to show parents and members of the community what the students can do to express their creativity and demonstrate their talents. It also allows the community and students from other schools to explore the campus grounds. Extracurricular groups, which are more important to school life than in American schools, can also earn money for activity funding.
Most schools throughout Japan hold such a festival sometime in late October to early November, which, if you remember, is about two-thirds into the Japanese school year. The festival tends to last for somewhere between one and three days over a weekend, but the preparation lasts a week or more. Students in elementary through high school are typically required to participate, since the preparation extends into school time, but college students do not have to participate and will usually only participate if they’re members of an extracurricular group.
Each individual homeroom class (and there are usually several classes per grade) must decide on an activity or event to produce for the cultural festival. Common activities include producing a play (even if it’s not a drama class), turning their classroom into a haunted house, turning their classroom into a themed cafe, selling items, or putting on an educational display.
Extracurricular groups also tend to participate, usually by showing off something to do with their activity, such as selling crafts for an arts and crafts club or holding a music performance for a music club, or for something purely to earn money for their club, such as selling food for a sports group. Most students–since most students participate in an extracurricular club–participate in shifts in their homeroom class activity, their extracurricular group activity and just some time off enjoying what other groups and classes have to offer at the festival.
After each class decides on their activity, the tend to be given an entire week off from classes in order to prepare. They must still go to school, for that’s where they’re expected to prepare. But the students practice leadership and can do what’s necessary for a week to get their activity ready, whether it’s rehearsing a performance, making costumes, building sets, making items to sell, building a stand at which to sell food, or turning their entire classrooms into themed areas. Many students, especially those in middle school and older, are even allowed to spend the nights at school (with teacher chaperones) during this week in order to have extra time to prepare.
Have you ever participated in a gakuensai? What were your favorite parts of the festivals? Do you wish that Western schools held similar festivals?
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Tags: education, festivals, japan, japanese culture, japanese customs, japanese schools, japanese students, student life