What is “bukatsudo”? Club activities in Japanese schools

28 February, 2022


In the extra-curricular activities of Japanese junior and senior high schools, there are various clubs. Such activities are called “bukatsudo”. Participation is voluntary, not compulsory, however, most students belong to a club.
Clubs are broadly divided into two categories—sports clubs and culture clubs, and there are various kinds within each category. Clubs range from those which are enjoyed casually once or twice a week, to tough clubs which meet not only almost every day after school, but also on holidays, with students going to school just to participate in the clubs to prepare for national competitions, etc. The frequency and content of the activities vary depending on the club.
Each club has a supervising teacher, but emphasis is placed on student independence. In the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology educational guidelines for junior and senior high schools, it says that students are to participate in club activities independently and voluntarily.

1)Over 70 kinds of sports and culture clubs combined

The “FY 2017 fact-finding survey regarding sports club activities, etc.” conducted in 2017 by the Japan Sports Agency mentioned the main kinds of sports and culture clubs in junior and senior high schools. There were 47 kinds of sports clubs, and 26 kinds of culture clubs. However, not all of the clubs are established in all schools. The figures show how many kinds of clubs there are in total.
In both junior and senior high schools, sports clubs which are often established include table tennis, track and field, baseball, basketball, tennis, soccer and volleyball. There are prefectural and national tournaments for many of them. Of these, the national tournament for high school baseball is broadcast live on television every year, and constantly boasts a high audience rating. Many students are noticed in the tournament and become professional players. One such player is Shohei Ohtani, who plays in the Major League in the USA.

In addition, there are also martial arts clubs, which practice Japanese arts. Many schools have kendo, judo and kyudo clubs, and there are also schools with karate, sumo and aikido clubs.
Culture clubs that are often established include brass band, art, craft, chorus, theater and pop music. In junior high schools, the kinds of culture clubs are few overall, however, there are many senior high schools with traditional Japanese culture clubs, such as flower arrangement, tea ceremony, and calligraphy. Many senior high schools also have literature, manga, anime, and volunteer clubs, and the variation is quite wide.
Generally, sports clubs meet more often than culture clubs, and practice more, however, there are some culture clubs which meet often and practice a lot, such as brass band, theater and chorus clubs which enter prefectural and national tournaments.

2)Club activity participation trends – in senior high school, there is an increase in culture club participation or students not belonging to a club

The Japan Sports Agency fact-finding survey mentioned above surveyed the junior high and senior high club activity participation status. According to the findings, the number of students participating in multiple clubs was small, and generally one student belonged to one club. 

Status of student club affiliation

Status of student club affiliation
Source: The Japan Sports Agency “FY 2017 fact-finding survey regarding sports club activities, etc.”

In junior high schools, the participation rate in sports clubs was around 70%, and around 20% in culture clubs. The participation rate was overwhelmingly high for sports clubs. However, in senior high schools, the participation rate in sports clubs dropped to just above 50%, and in culture clubs, rose to around 25%. One of the reasons for this is thought to be that there are more kinds of culture clubs in senior high schools than in junior high schools, and so there is a wider range of options. It was also pointed out that there was an increase in students who moved toward culture clubs which have more lenient activities than sports clubs, with their long-time constraints and hard practice sessions.
The ratio of junior high school students who did not belong to any club was less than 10%, however, that number more than doubled in senior high school, standing at around 20%. These students are called “kitakubu”, and it is said that in recent years, the number of such students is increasing. It is thought that stronger individual orientation and an increase in the number of students who do not like group activities, such as clubs, is one factor behind this trend.

3)An ideal opportunity to learn teamwork and traditional Japanese culture

Even so, there are many advantages to participating in club activities.
It is said that Japanese clubs are “a part of education”, and from this perspective they are unique when compared to club activities overseas. Learning teamwork and cooperativeness is a factor common to both sports and culture clubs. In particular, sports clubs have a strict vertical hierarchy, and are useful in mastering greetings and manners. It has been pointed out that junior and senior high school club activities have influenced the way Japanese companies work, with respect for seniors and emphasis on harmony.

Compared to sports clubs, the vertical hierarchy of culture clubs is not as strict. They are places where like-minded students can improve together and expand their creativity.
Clubs which practice traditional Japanese martial arts and culture, such as kendo and judo sports clubs, and flower arrangement and tea ceremony culture clubs offer a precious chance to learn the traditional arts firsthand. It is said that, by experiencing such arts in the sensitive teenage years, the effect of passing traditional Japanese culture to the next generation is large.

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