When I first came to Japan, I was surprised at the number of people who told me what club they were in at school. “Why would I want to know that?” I used to wonder. I was surprised because I didn’t appreciate how big a role bukatsu play in the lives of Japanese people.
Although I can see some advantages of the Japanese system of club activities, it still seems very strange to me, and I suspect that it has a negative effect on education and society in this country. This week, I will tell you what I see as the four main problems of bukatsu. Please feel free to disagree or point out my mistake if you think I am misunderstanding something.
Reason 1: Children should not be that busy.
If you have always lived in Japan, you probably think it is normal for children and teenagers to fall asleep during the day. I can assure you that it is not. Healthy children should not be struggling to stay awake at three in the afternoon. In addition, it seems to me that Japanese children have almost zero “free” time. Their days are basically scripted from start to finish, and in many cases, bukatsu even take up their weekends and holidays. One result of this is that children end up spending far too little time with their families and far too much time with their teachers. This lack of family time can lead to a number of social issues. Another problem is that children never learn to be creative because they are constantly being told what to do. When I was a child, we had lots of free time to make up our own games and plan our own adventures. Many people now complain about shijimachi workers, but it is not really surprising that young people end up like that when their whole lives have been controlled and organized by their schools since childhood.
Reason 2: Teachers should not be that busy.
I often meet teachers who tell me that education is only a small part of their job. In many cases, teachers have so many responsibilities with their bukatsu that they have no time to focus on training, study, or any other kind of professional development. If you want to improve the quality of education in Japan, you have to reduce teachers’ workloads. Also, teachers have families of their own, but many of them never get to spend time with their children even on weekends and holidays because they are too busy organizing training sessions and matches for their students. I think Japan needs to rethink the balance between the responsibilities of teachers and the responsibilities of parents.
Reason 3: Club activities reinforce the senpai / kohai system.
I’m sure many of you will disagree with me on this, but I think the senpai / kohai system is one of the biggest causes of bullying in this country. (I’m planning to do an entry on bullying in the near future.) Putting children into what in some cases are semi-militarized “clubs” creates an environment where bullies can flourish.
Reason 4: Children miss out on chances to try other activities.
Because children tend to focus exclusively on their club activity, they may miss out on the chance to try other things that would be good for them. As I understand it, a boy who joins the baseball club in junior high school will basically live, eat, and breathe baseball for the next six years of his life. If he ends up being a professional, I guess that will be time well spent. If not, however, it seems a very narrow sort of education to give a young person.
To summarize, although I think it is healthy for children to join clubs at school and take part in a wide range of activities, I think that far less time and effort should be spent on clubs, and far more importance should be placed on families and making sure children have time that is truly “free.”
Look forward to hearing your thoughts.