Join the club

By on June 1, 2008
Newcomers to Japan are surprised to see teenagers in school uniforms even during school vacations. Eager beaver scholars taking extra credit classes? No, they’re going to school for club activities (kurabbu katsudo or bukatsu, for short).

The most common question for a new junior high school student is, “What club are you going to join?”. According to a survey, a whopping 81% choose a sport, with baseball and badminton topping the lists for boys and girls, respectively. For the less athletically inclined, brass band, cooking club, and choir are among the standard offerings.

Once in a club, it can appear to take over a teenager’s life! Including practices and matches, 55% of junior high students have bukatsu six or seven times a week. Many students participate not only in after-school practice, but early morning training as well. Moms complain about how hard it is to schedule family trips around bukatsu. Kids who are passionate about their sport loathe to miss a single day of training, even during vacation. Fortunately, my teenage son wouldn’t miss our summer trips home for anything.

While most kids do join a club, there are some like my friend’s daughter—a serious ballet student—who decided at the outset that she had no time for bukatsu. Those not in a school club sometimes jokingly say they belong to the kitakubu (going home club).

Last year, my son was keen to start his school’s first American football club, and quickly gathered 15 potential members. Alas, the school authorities deemed football “too dangerous” for junior high students. Disgusted, my son found himself an outside team that only meets on Sundays, but he still wanted to join a school club, too, and settled for soccer. Throw Boy Scouts and guitar lessons into the mix, and it is a busy life for a 13-year-old. So when does he study? Ah, that is another story entirely!

About Debbie Oakes