A coupe weekends ago, I was able to experience Bunkasai at my school! Bunkasai, or School Festivals are a big deal in schools in Japan, from elementary to university. Bunkasai is an open-campus day, to show off the school to families and to the community, and to showcase the students’ achievements. All of the students and teachers put a ton of work into preparing for the festival. They spend months making decorations, creating the program, practicing performances, and making sure that everything is perfect. Classes were canceled the day before to give everyone time to prepare the finishing touches.
Bunkasai is a two-day event, over the weekend. I showed up on Saturday morning, and the school had been transformed. There were colorful decorations everywhere, and it was packed with students and families. I grabbed a program, with a schedule in Japanese that I could not read, and headed in. The festival included food, performances, tea ceremonies, displays of artwork, and a unique attraction in each homeroom class created by the students. It was all really well done, very fun, and very impressive. The decorations were fantastic, and covered the entire school.
I participated in my first-ever tea ceremony. There is a tatami room in the school, and once you’re in there, you could easily forget that you’re inside a modern high school. It feels like you’re in ancient Japan. You enter the room, and everyone sits seiza – on your knees with your shins under you. It hurt really badly, and I only lasted about 5 minutes. The senpai said we could sit cross-legged if we needed to, because it was more important to enjoy the tea than to sit seiza. Then the students came out, dressed in yukatas. First they offered us a plate of Japanese sweets, and then they prepared the tea. All of their movements were so precise. I was served first, and the tea was frothy and delicious. I enjoyed the ceremony, and found it very peaceful, but I’m going to have to practice sitting seiza.
Then I watched a few of the club performances – the choir club, the dance club, and the rhythmic gymnastic club. The rhythmic gymnastic club was the highlight – it was SO impressive. These girls are professional-level athletes. I seriously felt like I was watching the Olympics. Seeing the girls preform helped me realize why it is tolerated that they sleep in class – they are basically professional athletes, and many of them are on strict diets and intense practice schedules. English obviously comes second to gymnastics for them. But all of their practice pays off – they are extremely talented.
Then I toured around the homeroom classrooms. Each class had created something unique in their classroom – a haunted house, a treasure hunt, a “trip” to Hawaii, a game with bowling, ring toss, and “whack a student,” and, my personal favorite: an actual functioning homemade rollercoaster.
It was made of wood and duck tape and stacked desks. It looked super sketchy but I rode it and was fine. I just love that that was even allowed to happen – in the US that would never be okay, because of the liability. Some of other clubs also had displays in the classroom. I really liked the Ikebana (flower arranging) and calligraphy displays.
We also had a little display for International Club, which I run with my co-JET. It’s a small club – only 5 or 6 girls, but we had them create a poster, and we made a display with flags. I think it turned out great!
Overall Bunkasai was a really fun experience. It was cool to see the students in their “natural environment” – hanging out with their friends and families and showing off what they are really passionate about. I was quite frankly astonished at the athletic and artistic ability of the students. Everything I saw at Bunkasai, from the sports performances to art displays and the decorations, was perfectly polished and very professional looking. It was apparent that a lot of hard work had gone into preparing for the festival, and I think this demonstrates the Japanese focus on perfection. If only my students would put the same effort into English class!