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By Sherry Zheng

After arriving at Todai last fall I was surprised to find that most Todai students’ social lives are largely reliant on what goes on beyond the classroom. The culture of bukatsu (部活club activities) extends well beyond junior high and high school to university in Japan. At Todai, the range of clubs and circles is not limited to sports but includes the traditional tea ceremony, American music appreciation, and even game-making. After discovering that many Todai-sei (University of Tokyo students) are most open to socialising in the circle/club environment, I was bent on getting involved this semester – the beginning of a new school year and also the period for hundreds of clubs and circles to recruit new members.

Round one: Surviving the 'tento-retsu.' Photo by Xuan Truong Trinh.

Round one: Surviving the ‘tento-retsu.’ Photo by Xuan Truong Trinh.

The first round-up for contenders willing to take on the challenge is the テント列(tento-retsu, literally “row of tents”). This two-day event is particular to Todai, occurring in the freshman orientation period in April, right on the threshold of the new semester. Typically, freshmen are guided through a one-way route around the campus. The journey is mapped out meticulously to allow participants to cover the entire campus while being incessantly bombarded by flyers and touted by members of clubs and circles. For those who tend to struggle with saying no, come early, for the journey may persist for hours. On the route, contenders often find themselves physically blocked and pressured into entering a “tent” (hence the name) in which contact details will be obtained from interested parties.

The second round occurs within days after the first trial: サークルオリ(Circle Orientation). A tamer version (as some claim) of the first recruitment drive, contenders revisit clubs or circles they wish to know more about. Most people find themselves shuffling along jam-packed corridors at a painfully sluggish pace to reach the classroom in which their chosen club or circle has set up camp. Those who have successfully made it through the pilgrimage to base camp will be rewarded with snacks and refreshments. This is the chance to speak to official members, find out more about 新歓(shinkan, freshman) events and introduce yourself to potential friends and senpai (seniors).

The third round spans all the way till Golden Week in early May for some clubs and circles, and is a cocktail of新歓events (freshman events). More specifically participants may sign up for 体験練習(taiken renshuu, trial sessions), 新歓コンパ(shinkan konpa, freshman parties) or even 合宿 (gasshuku, training camps). You may find yourself at a soccer practice catered especially to beginners or newcomers, a free dinner held by the Kendo club, or even on a 4000 yen ski trip to Nagano with the Ski club. As this final round comes to a close, contenders tend to settle on a club to join – a decision welcomed warmly with ecstatic cheers when announced.

Though the bukatsu are known for their strenuous trainingschedules, clear-cut hierarchical roles and expectations of long-term commitment, when you join the team cry before a game, cheer madly when a goal is scored, and drop to the ground next to your teammates soaked through in sweat, you know that you can find 満足 (manzoku, satisfaction) in a club.

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