One of the things that make university life in Japan special is the annual “Culture Festival” or Bunka-sai (文化祭). Usually held on 3rd November, which is a Japanese national holiday titled “Culture Day” or Bunka no Hi (文化の日), Culture Festivals are open house events held by most schools throughout the country, from elementary schools to universities. Schools open their campuses for the public to visit, with performances, exhibitions, and food-stalls scattered throughout. This is done for the purpose of showcasing and encouraging the talents and creativity of the students in that particular school.
At the university-level, Culture Festivals are generally called Daigaku-sai (大学祭) or “University Festivals”, however each of the universities generally have their own unique names for their respective festivals. For example, some of Tokyo’s biggest university festivals are University of Tokyo Komaba Campus’ Komaba-sai, Keio University Mita Campus’ Mita-sai, and Waseda University’s Waseda-sai. These festivals attract a huge number of people, including local families seeking leisure, and alumni visiting and reminiscing their olden days. It is also common for university students to visit the festivals of other universities to experience their campuses and mingle with fellow university students. Since most university festivals last for several days and extend to the weekend, students usually visit multiple!
University festivals largely involve student “circles”, which are student communities that focus on a certain activity or interest, such as sports, art, performance, and many others. Performance circles such as band or dance circles hold live shows of their talents and art circles such as photography or manga circles hold exhibits of their work. Sports and other circles open up their own booths or stalls where they can sell various food and snacks, such as yakitori, takoyaki, or grilled sausages. Some also open up themed cafes, such as cosplay cafes. The money that the circles earn will be used to fund their circle’s activities. Many of them take university festivals very seriously and take a lot of time and energy to prepare for it, as the festival is an opportunity for them to attract people and promote their activities. Performance circles, especially band or dance, are famous for their “overnight practice sessions”; because the rental fee for studios are cheaper during the late hours than day time, they rent the studios to practice for their performances from midnight all the way until the morning! Running stalls and booths can be very fun but also strict with their budget and target sales; just like a real business!
Taking part in a university festival is a very highly recommended thing to do if you are a college student in Japan as the experience is truly unique, fun, and enriching—even more-so if you join a circle. By doing this, you can immerse yourself in a one-of-a-kind college tradition that you cannot find anywhere else in the world, and most importantly, you can familiarize yourself with Japanese work ethics by interacting with the Japanese people within the circle. Also, you can also make precious friends and create indispensable memories with them along the way.