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Bunka Sai – Culture Festival Organized by Young People


In November, many schools and universities hold events called Bunka Sai.  It means Culture Festival.  It is not directly related to Culture Day; celebrated on 3rd November, but yes – the eleventh month of the year provides many cultural activities and showcases.

Bunka Sai in Primary and Senior Education

The culture festivals are compulsory for all primary, junior, and senior schools. Schools can choose their own formats, as long as they demonstrate pupils’ achievements in the schools’ art/creative curriculum.

In primary schools (aged between six and twelve years old), a concert, a play, or an art exhibition are common choices. Audiences comprise parents, teachers, and children from other year groups.  The atmosphere is very relaxed, though there is no compromise on quality. The main aim is to give children the sense of achievement through collaboration.

For the junior and senior schools (aged between thirteen to fifteen, and sixteen to eighteen, respectively), the committee consists of student volunteers, supervised by a teacher, who leads the organisation.  The activities and exhibitions are more varied and holistic than those of primary schools, including decorating classrooms as cafés, snack stalls, or haunted houses with small entry fees.  In these cases, they are encouraged to keep accounts to track profit – or often recovering the cost of the display.

It is a hard task to work collectively with 30 to 40 peers.  Some of them already know their strengths and can proactively offer services to the group. Others may find their strength through this process, as an awakening moment. Individual thinking, taking the lead, and team-working, are all essential skills in any future circumstances outside school.  Regardless of different individual experiences, processes and projects, the common aim is a little taster of the real world.

Why in Autumn?  Is It the Weather?

Bunka-sai is often held in Autumn and is the seasonal word for Haiku poems.  It is usually bundled up with Culture Day.  But the Bunka-sai season falls in the mid-term of the school year, which starts in April and finishes in March.  Many Japanese students go through a series of very intensive school entrance exams in February.  So, November is the last moment for many to be able to enjoy in full, before going on to exam preparation.

Some schools see this event as a showcase to outside audiences.  Especially for senior schools, it is an important occasion to attract prospective pupils and parents.  For visitors, it is an excellent opportunity to have a real feel of school life, unlike the teachers/faculty lead open days.  November is the right time for them to visit as many schools as they can to make their minds up.

In recent years, it is becoming difficult for schools to plan a big event for various reasons, such as change in the school terms or safeguarding issues.  The method of collaboration may also change with the use of technologies and social media, making traditional Bunka-sai look redundant.  Its future is unpredictable, but, for now, the fun factor is still driving schoolchildren to keep this annual event alive.  The real change could come spontaneously from young people.

It Gets Bigger in University

Universities hold Bunka-sai, too.  Dedicated committees solely runs these events, with cooperation from the universities/colleges. They are typically three days long, Friday to Sunday, and the most popular festivals attract 50,000 visitors per day. There are a lot of food stalls, art exhibitions, concerts and plays by university students, and sometimes guest appearances from OB/OG of the universities (lectures by novelists, scientists, politicians, or performances by professional musicians). The characteristics of each college and university come alive in these events. Technology institutes focus on cutting-edge scientific exhibitions; art colleges install the most original projects, agricultural institutions offer hands-on experience, law schools hold mock trials, and so on.

What gives massive energy to these festivals is the sense of belonging. Students at colleges and universities can feel that they are not just a group of young people being taught, but they are the core element of what makes the university/college theirs.  It is a celebration of Japanese culture of collaborative success, but it is the success of many individual efforts and achievements of which young people should be proud.

For some, Bunka-Sai may look old-fashioned.  But this occasion can be used to keep young minds sharp, to focus on excelling through individual and collective strengths, and to take the opportunity to create something unprecedented.  It is the best playground for the future generation.

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