By Chiwu Ishido Kim
Komaba-sai, held from November 22nd to 24th this year, is a school-wide event in which almost every single club, team or class has a part in what essentially is a massive school festival. Over four hundred clubs and classes come to participate in dance shows, food stands, band performances, skits, debates and many more. Over 100,000 people, both University of Tokyo students and people from all over Japan come to visit, and it is definitely one of the highlights of the year at Komaba campus. This year I participated through performing in a skit, selling fried bananas, and just exploring the festival on my own, each of which had its own fascinating aspects.
First of all, Komaba-sai is an almost completely student-run event, something that is not common in many other countries. For stage performances, nothing other than the stage itself was prepared beforehand. Students come with their own props and instruments, making for a thrilling journey to campus as they are forced to trudge through the streets with, for instance, a small cart carrying tables and chairs. From the preparation for the skit itself to the actual performance day, there is no faculty in sight, and everything is left to the students. This creates an atmosphere that is chaotic yet at the same time natural in contrast to the plays seen in the United States.
The same goes for food stands. Hundreds of food stands line the campus from the main gate to the very end, selling foods from ordinary hot dogs to fried bananas. Selling food within this hyper-competitive environment forces those working in the stalls to come up with creative methods of advertising their products, and the campus is filled with voices from every corner asking customers to eat at their stand. Selling food is a challenge, especially for PEAK students, who have no prior experience in school festivals in Japan, or Gakuensai. There is neither a manual nor an adult to teach the ropes, so many have to improvise. In contrast, many of the domestic students are natural salesmen with years of Gakuensai experience behind them. International students try to bridge the gap with their unique traits, such as advertising in multiple languages.
However, many usually spend most of their time exploring the festival itself, pushing through an endless sea of people. Searching for a specific attraction requires a map, and getting lost is almost obligatory. There are so many different attractions that every twist and turn through the campus is hiding something new. Even stands selling the same food have different ways of calling for customers, from chants and songs to colorful signs and dressing in costume.
There is no doubt that the University of Tokyo has a reputation for having a rigid student body, comprising of students whose lives revolve around studying and nothing else, attending university in a robotic fashion. Komaba-sai completely shatters this stereotype, as each student illustrates their creative talents and innovative ingenuity in a flourish of colors. Komaba-sai, allows one a glimpse into the wild side of many of the students, and experiencing it is absolutely necessary to understand the true nature of the Komaba campus.
Chiwu Ishido Kim is a first-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo.