Japanese schools typically offer students a variety of sports, humanities-related, science-related and arts clubs. School club activities start as a part of the formal curriculum from fifth and sixth grades of elementary school. In elementary and junior high schools there are two types of club activities - those that are part of the formal curriculum and are compulsory, and extracurricular clubs that are optional. The latter are more active in high schools. One survey* shows that more than 60% of high school students in Japan take part in a school club of some type: 34.5% join sports clubs, 24.5% humanities-related and other clubs, and 1.4% both kinds, while 39.4% do not take part in any school clubs.
In order to fulfill specific educational policies or project a distinctive school image, some schools, usually private schools, emphasize particular kinds of clubs. For example, some schools seek to strengthen their athletics clubs by attracting suitably talented students from all over the country under a recommendation-based enrollment system.
Essentially clubs are managed by the students themselves, led by a club president supported by other club officers such as vice-president and manager. Normally club presidents are upper-class students. Guidance is usually given by members of the school teaching staff acting as supervisors or coaches, and sometimes by ex-members (third-year students after they formally resign in the winter term or graduates who visit their old clubs to practice). Clubs also include representatives from the teaching staff who act as advisors, act as liaisons between the club and school authorities, and supervise the club's other external affairs.
School clubs vary widely in size. While some have only a few students, others, such as sports clubs (especially baseball) that have achieved national renown, can attract over a hundred members at a time.
At most schools, club activities are held after school. Each club determines which days of the week it will hold practice or training sessions. Most clubs practice for two or three hours after school, though a few opt for morning sessions (called 朝練asaren). In sports and athletics clubs, practice matches and official matches are held on weekends and holidays. During summer vacation, some clubs hold training camps (about a week long) or other intensive practice/activity sessions. Training camps may consist of overnight stays at the school or trips to summer retreats or other facilities equipped for the particular club's activities.
Links to Society and Community
In many fields of school club activity, national competitions, and concerts, performances and other events are held to allow clubs form different schools to compete with one another or present the results of their training or practice. Sport clubs focus on practice matches and official inter-school matches. While the system of official matches varies from sport to sport, in most cases the third-year students retire after an important match or tournament, making way for the next round of matches featuring new and promoted club members. (Note that clubs usually take in new members at the start of the school year, which is in April.) Sport clubs also play intra-club matches as red and white teams, as well as matches against alumni teams. The national "inter-high" tournaments in sports such as baseball, soccer and rugby are televised and enjoy considerable popularity among the general public. Most schools also hold an annual bunkasai or school festival 《→bunkasai 文化祭 school festival》 as another important occasion for school clubs, particularly performance and humanities and arts-related clubs, to show their talents to a wider audience.
Locus of Social Relationships
While the atmosphere of Japanese school clubs varies from club to club, there persists a traditional image, particularly in some sports clubs, of senpai (先輩 upper-class students) lording it over their kohai (後輩 lower-class students). In clubs that keep such old-fashioned ways, first-year students often have a long initiation period of basic training, performing menial tasks such as picking up balls and carrying equipment. These days, however, rank-oriented social interaction is dying out, and school clubs are becoming more relaxed places for making friends with students from other years and meeting people who will offer various kinds of advice and guidance. Clubs also provide opportunities for students to learn about social interaction in general, such as by allowing them to develop interpersonal ties through group activities; through tasks such as teaching others and planning courses of action from a broad perspective; and through experiences such as training camps and inter-school matches.
Focus of Extracurricular Activity
In another survey**, respondents were asked what they felt were the most rewarding times at school. The second most common response, after "when spending time with close friends" (53.1%), was "when involved in student council, club or other group activities " (16.1%). When the same question was put to American and Chinese high school students, although the most common response was the same as for Japanese students, in both cases the second most common response was "when taking lessons that I like," with "student council, club activities, etc." ranking third or lower. These results suggest that for Japanese high school students club activities play a particularly important role in school life.
《→gakko shisetsu 学校施設 school facilities》
*Chugakusei kokosei no nichijo seikatsu ni kansuru chosa hokokusho [Survey on the Daily Lives of Junior High and High School Students], Japan Youth Research Institute, 2000.
** Supotsu to kenko ni kansuru chosa: Nichi-Bei-Chugoku kokosei hikaku [Survey on Sports and Health: A Comparison of Japanese, American and Chinese High School Students ], Japan Youth Research Institute, 1996.