What are Japanese Clubs and Circles?

In Japan, joining activity groups is a vital part of university life.  For many students, university clubs are a place where students can form social networks and find lifelong friends. Joining a club is the same as having a new family, especially for international students who are away from home. The warm and welcoming atmosphere makes everyone feel as if they’re at home, away from home.

Different clubs and circles participating in an event

Japanese university groups usually fall into three categories – competitive groups (mostly sports), study groups, and circles. There are just way too many groups to choose from and not enough time for one person to join them all.  Finding the right group can be a bit challenging at first. During spring recruitment, there’s a massive amount of flyers being handed out to students, and everyone is very busy trying to recruit members.

The appearance of a new cheerleading pleasure to acquire new students. The campus where each circle is crowded is the festival of spring

Difference between Clubs and Circles

These two types of student organizations seem similar but have a very big difference. Clubs usually have a competitive admission process and have more requirements such as having the status of a full-time student (Four-year admission). This means that four-year international students have a higher chance of getting admitted than short-term students or exchange students.

The university usually supports clubs and treats them as the face of the university. Therefore, students who belong to clubs tend to take their activities more seriously than others. Students put an enormous amount of effort and dedication into honing and sharpening their skills in order for them to proudly represent their school in tournaments against other universities. School rivalries in Japan make the competition more heated up and exciting which gets the audience and students all pumped up for the game.

Football team in Kobe and Osaka university getting ready for the game to start

Circles are a little different compared to clubs because they are more relaxed and less strict. They have many events where anyone could freely socialize with each other and get to know them better. The most common form of socializing in circles is called “nomikai” (drinking party). Compare to clubs, circles have a much broader range of groups to choose from such as culture clubs, study clubs, international clubs, dance groups, and many more. Many students join to meet new people and network with their peers. It’s a great way to make new friends and get involved without the pressure of intense commitment.

Sempai – Kohai

What makes Japanese circle/club so unique compared to organizations in other countries is their hierarchical system. Yes, they structure their organization in the same way as Japanese companies and other organizations in Japan. The “Sempai – Kohai” system is a hierarchical system in which the older students (senpai) lead and instruct younger students (kohai). Senpais are all respected, and kohais mostly use polite language when addressing or talking with them.

Every year, when the school year change and new students enter university, kohais then become senpai for the new younger students. In the eyes of kohai, the senpai becomes their mentor, their brother, and sister, but most of all their friend that they can always rely on – senpais work hard in setting a good example for their kohais.

The freshmen listen to the explanation while visiting the circle booth unexpectedly.

Tips for joining and choosing a circle

Before choosing a club or circle to join, make sure it fits with your class schedule, and you have enough time to participate and get involved with their events. The commitment for each club/circle usually varies, but you definitely don’t want to let your grades slip down due to not having enough time to do both. Have a balanced schedule – have fun and play hard at the same time. Why settle for one if you could do both?

Regardless of whether you are planning on studying abroad for the short term or long term, I highly recommend joining a circle or club. Don’t be shy and don’t let the Japanese language hold you back from participating because you’ll definitely miss out on a lot. It’s the best way to get connected and experience fun Japanese college life!