November 3rd is Culture Day (Bunka no Hi) in Japan, and around this time most schools will put on some kind of cultural festival or event for a day or weekend to showcase students’ artistic abilities and/or raise money for the school and it’s various clubs and programs.
Every year the high school I teach at invites me to participate, although I often have to decline due to other work commitments. This year I was lucky and landed a three day weekend, so I had a chance to go and see what was going on. I apologize for any blurred or mosaic-face pictures in advance; it’s against work policy to post pictures of easily recognizable faculty and students publicly without their permission, and I’m not willing to risk losing my job over a blog post. 😉
The Culture Festival at my high school always consists of three parts: a showcase of class and club activities, food stands/entertainment, and a local bazaar.
As soon as I got past the gates there were tons of boys making sales pitches at me to buy whatever their club was selling at the line of stalls running along the courtyard. I felt bad saying no, especially to the really persistent ones who tried their best to convince me in English why I should buy their stuff. Before I knew it I was holding a paper cup filled with skewers of konnyaku balls and yakitori, and I don’t even like konnyaku all that much.
After I finished my food, I went to grab my indoor shoes from my cubbyhole at the teachers’ entryway and headed over to the main student entrance to see what was going on inside. A big board set up inside the student entryway greeted students and other guests to pick their favorite Mister Lady and Miss Dandy contestant and cast their vote. This event, where a few students from each grade are picked to gender swap and submit an entry of their best look caught on camera, is one of the most popular annual events at the festival. The contestants also have to walk around during open hours taking pictures with everyone and encourage their peers to vote for them.
After marking my vote, I made some dipped senbei with some girls from a class I taught last year who were running a stall in the foyer. Most festivals have some kind of senbei art like this.
Then I made my way up to the 2nd floor and into traditional Japanese-style room the school houses to see what the tea ceremony (sadō) club was up to. Tea ceremony green tea is very different to the kind you can buy in vending machines, is served at restaurants, or you make at home. For light tea, high quality green tea powder is whisked together with hot water for a result that’s frothy and without much of the distinctive bitterness green tea usually has. For a stronger taste that resembles what you probably know as green tea, more of the same powder is used in proportion to hot water, and the tea is lightly blended until smooth.
The tea the students were making and serving was the light kind. With the weather’s starting to get chilly outside it was quite nice. There’s nothing like a good cup of tea to keep you warm.
There wasn’t much else to see on the 2nd floor, so I went up one more floor where an array of handmade ceramics and glass, handicrafts, framed student photography, and calligraphy were on display. In Japan, calligraphy is studied in all grades and not just something you pay someone to write on your wedding invitations, like in the U.S.
Around the corner in another classroom, the Japanese chess (shogi) club had tables set up for any new challengers. Unfortunately I only know how to play regular chess so I just watched the boys in the picture below play.
One of the teachers had really be pushing me to visit the bazaar, but by the time I got there most of the vegetables had been sold out and there were only sweet potatoes and hand-pounded mochi. In the gym, donated used items and inexpensive daily items and gift sets were for sale, in a flea market-style fashion.
I took a last look around, and purchased a few more snacks I had promised to buy from students earlier to take home and share with my husband.
Although the event was pretty laid back, it still took the students weeks and weeks of practice and preparation to put on their two-day festival. I appreciated the extra opportunity to get to know some of my students a little better, since not all of them are particularly active in the class room and I don’t always get a lot of free time to linger in the hallways and chit chat. Even if you’re not a part of the school, most school festivals are open to outsiders, too. It’s a good peak into one of the many parts of student life here, so I recommend it if you ever have the chance. 🙂