Circle experiences in SFC

Student circles in Japan play a significant role in the university students’ life, as many find their friends and social groups through delving oneself into these communities.  Keio University’s Shonan Fujisawa Campus (SFC) offers a variety of circles varying across all sorts of fields, from music to arts and sports.  The great variety of choices available make it difficult not to find the right circle that suits you.  For international students, the culture of Japanese student circles may still seem a little foreign, especially when there are many unsaid rules and commitments required.  Not to mention, it might seem a bit intimidating as an international student who might not be fully confident in Japanese to immerse oneself into these groups completely.  Being an international student myself, I have learned and grown a lot through involving myself in these circles.  In this article, I will be recounting on my experiences as an international student in two circles from two different fields.

First year – Wind Ensemble Circle

With the thought of wanting to continue my passion from high school as a flutist, the very first circle that I entered was “Dolce,” a wind orchestra circle.  I first entered in the middle of the Fall semester through an introduction of another upperclassman who is in the same program as I am.  Hence, it was only the two of us who were international students within the group. It is normal for Japanese students who enter in the Spring Semester to be recruited into circles through annual events called “Shinkan,” which is a time period where most circles advertise their circle to newcomers in hopes that they will join.  Within the “Shinkan” period, posters and leaflets will be given and students can freely join their weekly gatherings and try out, getting to know the upperclassmen, and also go out together for free dinner, otherwise known as “Shinkankai.”  Recruiting new members during this time period is extremely important for circles to maintain the number of members as a void is created with graduating 4th years.  Roles also change as the groups proceed to age as new leaders are decided.  Being a Fall Semester entrant, I did not enter through the traditional “Shinkan.”  Instead, through participating in a few practices and exchanging my contact details, I was easily slipped in and became a member.

Saturday practices

Dolce is a wind ensemble that not only arranges concerts at the end of the year but also auditions for parade performances during the spring semester. Having joined in the Fall semester, we were in the period of preparing for the final yearly concert, one of the circle’s biggest performance.  We practice four times every week, including an entire day on Saturday.  At first, I was always anxious and uneasy due to my inability to understand Japanese and the instructions and comments made by the conductor.  However, through the help of my upperclassmen and fellow flutist friends I began to create within the woodwind group, I gradually felt more comfortable.  From there, I developed the courage to reach out to other members of the circle and improve my Japanese conversational skills.  It was a great experience being able to continue doing what I had always loved: music and at the same time learning the discipline and responsibilities as a circle member.  The hard work paid off with a successful concert.  For the first time, I experienced and learned the ropes of preparing a for a concert that is not only the performance itself, but all the way from making the brochures, asking for sponsorship, preparation at the concert venues such as sound design and stage design, to designing performance choreographies (yes, we also dance while we play our instruments).  It was a tiring journey, but the results were worth it.

Performing at the end of year concert with Dolce. (Picture by member of the circle)

Moving on and Saying Goodbye

Finding the right balance between school work and practice requires a large amount of discipline and responsibility. Being in the wind orchestra which constantly requires stress and pressure from my peers to perform well, in addition to sticking to the practice schedule became more difficult for me as I entered my seminar which required a lot of time and effort in group work.  As my world widens, I felt like there was much more to experience and explore.  After much thought, I eventually decided to leave.  I stopped participating in the practices and confronted my circle peers who were at that time being assigned of leadership roles.  With the pressure to continue, it took a lot of courage to confront them, but so being honest was the key as they understood my circumstances and reasons.  Despite our goodbye, me and my circle friends still maintain a good relationship as we still meet around campus and in classes.

Second year until now – Film Photography Circle

As I learned to settle into university and life in Japan, my friendship circle spread beyond just my international friend group but also the Japanese students I meet in my classes.  Through sharing interests, I was introduced to a friend who is the leader of the Film Photography circle, who kindly offered me to teach me how to develop my own rolls of black and white 35mm in the school’s darkroom.  As we spent the time together in developing our first roll of black and white film, seeing the photograph unfold behind my eyes, it became an unsaid consensus to join the circle.

My first successful black and white film development (Picture by me)

Unlike Dolce where practice was compulsory, commitment to the Film photography circle was like a loose and free, as we rarely gather as a group.  Members meet and bump into each other through using the same darkroom, and occasional gatherings were through dinner and meetings for the next event.  While bounded together through our love of film photography, we were still able to express our art through our own style with our photographs.  This diversity of styles could be seen in our exhibition during the school’s Fall Semester, Tanabata-sai.

Preparation for the Tanabata festival exhibition
Welcoming guests at the exhibition

Choosing the right circle for you

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to discovering your own interests: circles are a great way of continuing your current interest as well as challenging yourself in completely unfamiliar fields, such as an unknown sport or picking up a new musical instrument.  Entering a circle alone might seem like a scary and intimidating thing to do as an international student, but by being proactive and having the courage to contact the circle, you’ll be surprised at how welcoming they are.  Things that you might want to consider would have to be the level of commitment required: the amount of effort and dedication, responsibility, as well as money and time.  All these requirements vary across different circles, and there is no loss in trying them out!  Even as a Fall entry student, it is not too late to wait for the Spring semester and experience “shinkan” like many Japanese students. Enjoy your journey with discovering all the circles available out there to you in your university.  Good luck!