Culture Festival Impressions

Every year schools around Japan have a special event called the culture festival (文化祭 bunkasai). Here, students host a variety of performances, which are really unique, impressive, and require insane amounts of coordination and cooperation (none of which I have). Here’s a fact: according to the Ministry of Education, the festivities are designed “to use the results of everyday learning to heighten motivation”.  Pause on that for a minute. results of everyday learning …. to heighten motivation… Okay, let’s move on.

In the weeks leading to the day itself, students have their afternoon classes slashed for the week, which means teachers (like me) can take a break from the usual grind, and students have ample time to prepare for the festivities. This usually means a lot more students on their cellphones or slacking off in the hallways. Or the one’s who really have something to prove put their heart and souls into it. Likewise, students divide their labor based on their skillset or preference. Naturally, the shy kids will work behind the scenes, while the “genki”, more enthusiastic kids will take lead roles in showing the community their talent.

At the schools i’ve work at, i’ve seen everything from independently produced plays to themed exhibit classrooms. Story time! One of the most memorable classroom exhibitions i’ve experienced was a haunted house at my non-base school last year. Before I entered the haunted house, I noticed a line outside the classroom door guarded by one of the students impersonating a zombie with blood makeup smothered all over his face. Evidently, it was a popular show so I waited my turn in line next to the “students with special needs”. One of the teachers then informed me that one of the students is really scared about entering the room. We keep talking and then we hear screaming from inside the room. We glance toward the student when we heard the horrid noises, and then noticed his eyes enlarging in fear, then laugh quietly to ourselves. Only then do we enter.

Meanwhile, the kid grips my hand with the force of Jackie Chan. We resume walking as i’m in agonizing pain. Slowly and carefully we walk through the pitch dark room, and all we hear are vague sounds of witches, ghosts, and zombies / mummies. Then someone jumps out at us, and my hand suddenly crack at the grip of this kid’s clenched fist. Finally, we exit and all i have to say is “omg so scary right?”.

That same year, the ESS (English Speaking Society) club at my main school wrote a play where I’m the main character, and it’s my birthday. here’s a little bit how it went; moments before the play starts, everyone is a little nervous. Finally, the curtains rise and they all shout. “Zack-sensei! Happy birthday!” From there, students offer me gifts that have dual meanings in English. For example, they offer me a HOT dog, which i attempt to eat (cause hotdogs are delicious right?); a trump card that I adore (cause everyone loves President Trump right?); and more play on words that surely confuse our Japanese audience who hardly understand any English. However, if they didn’t understand anything, they at least understood my impersonation of Atsurigi Jason and his famous words, “Why Japanese People!” (reference below). The message of the play was that language is hard (and so are plays!), but what matters is that we try! It may have been the most embarrassing 10 minutes of my life, but hey, one for the books.

Speaking of Atsurugi Jason, he is the man. He came to Japan and led an IT company, and became pretty much fluent in Japanese. He’s a hero to all. He’s also so hilarious. I’m happy I was able to channel his energy into the play. 

Last year I also attended a culture festival at a university. Here, what’s most interesting is that there was a model show, which was 1) My first time ever being at any such event, and 2) the first i’ve ever heard of a model show being in a college setting. There were three men and three women, each competing for first prize. Each of them showed a video that sells their best qualities. While some were pretty cool, a girl bungie jumping or visiting an animal shelter; others were a bit more common-place: a guy sifting through a second-hand shop with Afterwards they all do the cat walk, then strike a pose. Finally, the winners were announced, and I assume the winner has bragging rights for the next year, but nothing else. Overall, model shows at the collegiate level are something utterly unique to me. I can’t get my mind around why Japan is the only country I know that does this.

I even got to join the culture festival at my school this year! The last performance of the day was the teacher’s performance. We had an onstage karaoke session of “atohitotsu” by famous Japanese artists, Funky Chunky Monkeys. Before the song begins, students crowd near the front of the stage, spilling over each other’s space, just itching to get a bit closer to the stage. Some teachers are dressed as baseball players and put on an amusing skit about a student who can’t catch a baseball to save his life. He just keeps missing the ball. The student’s get such a kick out of it they keep screaming “moi kai” (one more time!) probably precisely because it was so funny.

The baseball coach tells the apparently hopeless student that it looks like he’s having a hard time, and to try his best. Then the music is cued, and all the teacher’s enter stage with microphones in hand. There are certain sections where teachers solo parts of the song; I even had one and sang a few lines in Japanese into the microphone.

Finally, we all sing the final chorus together swaying side to side in unison:

“あと一粒の涙で 一言の勇気で 願いがかなう その時が来るって
僕は信じてるから 君も諦めないでいて
何度でも この両手を あの空へ のばして あの空へ”

“After one teardrop and one word of courage
The time when my wish is granted will come
Because I believe that
You’re not giving up either
No matter how many times,
I’ll reach out my hands to that sky
To that sky”

Culture festival is meant to display the fruits of everyday learning to the public eye as well as to motivate students to continue trying their best in studying. I can see why Japan would have such a festival. It seems the perfect opportunity for students to take a break from studying so hard so they can show their parents, friends, and teachers what they can do when put to the task.

What are some of your best stories from culture festival in japan? Share in the space below!



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