School Club Activities

  • Peter Barakan


    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Matt Alt


    Born in Washington D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was kindled by robot toys in his childhood. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before co-founding a company that produces English versions of Japanese comics and video games. He also writes extensively about cultural trends including yokai, ninja, emoji, and more.

  • Atsushi Nakazawa

    Main guest

    Atsushi Nakazawa is a physical educationist and associate professor at Waseda University’s Department of Sports Science, where he specializes in the sociology of sport. Among the topics he has addressed are the history of Japan’s school club activities, and the relationship between sports and the educational system. His research has seen him visit schools, as well as interview teachers and parents, all over the country.


October 6, 2016

School Club Activities

*You will leave the NHK website.

In Britain, there is an old song for children that begins, "At half-past three we go home to tea, or maybe at quarter to four." Upon hearing this lyric, the average Japanese teenager might be inclined to exhale a wistful sigh of "ii naa" (lucky you).

Such yearning would be not because they were eager to have a refreshing cup of Earl Grey (in this case, "tea" is actually a British-ism meaning "dinner"), but rather because 90% of Japan’s middle- and 70% of high school students are members of extracurricular clubs that frequently keep them on campus as late as five or even six PM, even at weekends and holidays.

Known as "bukatsu," these group activities are a key part of Japanese education, using structured participation in sports and other cultural pursuits to teach values such as cooperation and social etiquette, traits that will prove indispensable when students reach adulthood.


As one member of the baseball club practices fielding, his teammates mimic his actions from behind to demonstrate that they are paying attention to the coach’s instructions.


Host Peter Barakan and guest Atsushi Nakazawa recall their own schooldays. 

As guest Atsushi Nakazawa explains, the rise of bukatsu culture was due in part to the use of clubs as a tool to curb a 1970s boom in teenage delinquency by refocusing youthful energies.

Though voluntary in theory, the potential importance of an active club history in swaying university or even job applications means that, in practice, few students tend to opt out of joining. And once on board, an unwillingness to let the group down can mean children are reluctant to sit sessions out, even when carrying a mild injury or illness, or snowed under with homework. 

So just what sort of thing do such clubs take in? The range of pursuits on offer is often so extensive that it may be simpler to ask what things don't fall under the bukatsu umbrella.

In this week's edition, we drop in on a shorinji kenpo martial arts club, and along with the kendo, judo, kyudo (traditional archery), karate, and other disciplines you would expect to see in Japan, various imported sports are also a given, from the yakyu-bu (baseball club), through to soccer, rugby, basketball, volleyball, tennis, ping pong, athletics, and much more besides.


In this shorinji-kenpo club, students learn respect for others. As well as a mean selection of kicks and throws. 


Kendo is one of many traditional Japanese martial arts on offer.


Some of the more competitive sports clubs practice all year round: after school, at weekends and during the holidays.

Various hit manga series centering around high school team sports have enthralled audiences made up equally of adults nostalgic for their own schooldays, and youngsters looking for a primer on the sort of thing to expect in the course of their own athletic endeavors.

And somewhat unusually, tournaments at this level can command a prominent place in the national consciousness, with televised matches and major sponsorship deals.

Perhaps the best example of this is summer’s annual National High School Baseball Championship, otherwise known as "Koshien" because Hyogo Prefecture's Koshien Stadium is the venue for the final showdown.

Not only is this tournament a chance to see potential future pros make or break their prospects in an emotionally charged barrage of all-out effort and the inevitable howlers that accompany such commitment, it is also an occasion rich in ritual and symbolism.

In an echo of sumo’s dohyo sacred wrestling ring, females are not permitted to set foot on the hallowed turf of Koshien Stadium. Meanwhile members of losing teams, while weeping tears of frustration -- and apology to those they have let down -- will get down on their hands and knees to scoop up a handful of the ground’s sacred soil to keep as both a reminder of failure and a souvenir of youth.

Away from such male bonding, various forms of dance and cheerleading are also popular club activities for (mostly) girls. But don’t let preconceptions fool you: as Matt Alt finds out with his visit to a dance drill team, these groups are no less rigorous than their conventionally athletic counterparts, as the teams are trained into well-oiled machines.


This school dance drill team is like a well-oiled machine.


Matt finds out all about life on the dance team.

It is, however, not all a case of "higher, faster, stronger." Peter Barakan recalls being made to feel rather inferior by his own lack of sporting prowess as a youth, but Japan’s bukatsu really does offer something for students of every persuasion.

There is the hoso-bu (broadcasting club, which Peter perhaps wishes had been available as a way to bow out of wet winter rugby sessions in his own school days), shimbun-bu (school newspaper), and dramatic societies of bewilderingly pinpoint specificity (French drama club, anyone?).


Cooking is another useful life skill for which many schools have a club.


Not all club activities are physical. These students have opted for the IT club.

Along with a brass band, taiko drumming, and other ensemble performance clubs, our host’s burgeoning musical interests would also no doubt have been catered for by the keion-bu (light music club). This term, which has been used since the 1930s to refer to genres other than classical music, can nowadays seem like something of a misnomer in the face of the distorted, guitar-driven renditions of pop hits in which keion bands tend to specialize. Indeed, this is another club tradition that has inspired popular manga and anime incarnations.


*You will leave the NHK website.