Bunkasai - Japanese School Cultural Festivals

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Bunkasai [文化祭] are school festivals that take place in autumn around October and November in all schools and universities in Japan. The goal is to introduce the school to parents, future students and residents of the neighborhood through various attractions that students of the school itself organize. 

The word Bunkasai is simple and derives from the ideograms [文化] which means culture followed by [祭] which comes from matsuri and means festival. 

Bunkasai or School Festivals are held to show students' learning, as a recreational fun and also a means of interacting socially. Alumni usually take the opportunity to visit the schools they studied. 

Cosplayers at the culture event and people drawing on the floor
Cosplayers at the Culture event and people drawing on the floor

Food is served in tents and some classrooms or gyms are transformed into temporary restaurants or cafes. Dances, music and plays are performed by volunteers or by school clubs.

How is School Festivals held? 

In advance the students of each room decide what they are going to present during the School Festival. Music, theater, dance, literature and sports clubs are also preparing to give presentations or plan something special for the event. 

Until the University all students are required to participate in Bunkasai, it is an event that falls on the school grid. Those who do not give presentations or the like help in another way, as in the preparations for the event. Practically it is the students who do all the work at the school. 

Bunkasai - school cultural festivals in japan
Elementary school children looking after a tent

The most impressive of Japanese festivals is the students' dedication in preparing. All of this requires a great level of effort, fear and energy. There are weeks of preparation and training for a few hours of presentations. 

School festivals are so popular that they always appear in anime and manga. It is rare to watch an anime that takes place at school without encountering the annual bunkasai event where we see students and clubs getting ready and doing the event. 

Different names of Bunkasai

In addition to the traditional and generic name Bunkasai, some schools use other names for their festival. Depending on the class or course, other pre-defined names already exist: 

SchoolTranslationJapanese
Nursing schoolExposure of daily lifeSeikatsu-happyō-kai (生活発表会)
kindergartenExposure of daily lifeSeikatsu-happyō-kai (生活発表会)
Primary schoolLiterary Arts Exhibition Gakugei-kai (学芸会) 
Primary schoolLearning displayGakushu-happyō-kai (学習発表会)
College (Elementary) Cultural FestivalBunka-sai (文化祭)
High SchoolCultural FestivalBunka-sai (文化祭)
UniversityUniversity FestivalDaigaku-sai ( 大学祭)

Another very popular school festival is called Undokai, a competitive festival which is not always open to the public and involves different competitions and different sports between classes. Likewise, students are instructed to prepare for this big day in advance. 

My experience on culture day

Many schools hold their school festival around November 3, a Japanese national holiday called Bunka no Hi [文化の日] day of culture. Festivals always take place on a Saturday or Sunday, sometimes on 2 days. 

I'm not sure if it was a school bunkasai festival, but on Culture Day at Kakegawa Prefecture, close to the station, a big street was happening matsuri and many tents belonged to elementary students and other classes. 

Bunkasai - school cultural festivals in japan
Famous game of fishing goldfish and hitting rings

It was a very fun matsuri, in the beginning there were some Cosplay Idols singing while the festival extended along the avenue full of food stalls, games of chance and workshops where children and parents did woodwork. 

It also had a massage tent, a baby run, children drawing with chalk on the floor and an avenue that probably belonged to an elementary school, full of uniformed children working and selling food to visitors. 

Bunkasai - school cultural festivals in japan
The famous baby race

my experience in a college bunkasai

I had the opportunity to visit Bunkasai from Otemae University in the Kansai region and wanted to share my experience. At first I was a little disappointed that the festival was at a University, where there would be no one with school uniform. 

University Bunkasai are also called daigaku-sai [大学祭] and are usually smaller and less fun because they are not mandatory for students, unlike the elementary and middle school that is part of the school grade. Not to mention that things at Universities are more serious. 

Bunkasai - school cultural festivals in japan
At the Bunkasai of Otemae University in Kansai

The festival itself seemed quite simple and small, with a stage outside where students sang surrounded by food stalls. In the rooms there were more exhibitions of things related to the courses than university offered. 

It's not like anime full of themed and fun rooms, not least because it was a university and not high school. Luckily there was a really fun room full of cosplayers, posters, and a ton of drawings made by the room's organizers, free to pick up and draw. 

Bunkasai - school cultural festivals in japan
Cosplay room and drawings at Bunkasai and other exhibitions

In the rooms we find exhibitions related to the University's courses, involving architecture, mangoes, archeology, international relations, psychology and others. 

I was with other friends, so I didn't have the opportunity to enjoy everything about the festival. The most fun was the show Taiko that happens in one of the 3 Halls of the school. It was a 30-minute presentation with a group of students that you can follow a little below:

Bunkasai are really fun and you can have a unique experience in each one. Not everyone will be able to appreciate Japanese customs, but if you want to get in touch and delve into Japanese traditions, visit a Bunkasai. 

If it's during the fall in Japan, just search Google for bunkasai dates on the weekends and you'll end up finding some upcoming event. I hope you enjoyed the article! If you liked it, share and leave your comments! 

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