By Hye June Seo
What is an undoukai(運動会)? In Japanese, undoukai refers to a big yearly sport event in schools, where students compete with each other in various sports. The University of Tokyo uses the word differently, referring it to an association of sports teams. Whereas other universities use the word taiikukai(体育会, athletics association) instead of undoukai. Apparently Todai is the only university that uses the term in a special way. The official name is Athletic Foundation of the University of Tokyo(東京大学運動会). Currently, there are 46 clubs and teams in this foundation.
Japanese university students’ extracurricular club activities are mainly circle (サークル) and bukatsu(部活). The main difference between circle and bukatsu is its freedom of committment and the atmosphere of the club. People who get in circles are mainly to enjoy the club and also be able to do other activities like studying or working. On the other hand, bukatsu is more strict about committment and its main goal is to leave high scores for the school. Also, all bukatsu are conceded by the university, meaning they are supported financially.
Each team has different activity hours, but most of the teams practice more than two days per week. The teams considered major sports like baseball or football team practice five or six day a week.There is the seikiren(正規練), the official practice where members should be attending, and jishuren(自主練), an optional practice depending on the member’s own will. Many students take part in jishuren to get better, so it’s actually more semi-obligatory hours on top of the seikiren. The practice in the morning is called asaren(朝練), while the one in the evening is yoruren(夜練). Some really tough scheduled teams have their practice in the middle of the night called shinyaren(深夜練). It may seem a little complicated, but as an example, my fencing team have practice 3 days a week after school around 6pm, so it becomes a yoruren.
Another unique point about undoukai is the senpai–kouhai(先輩—後輩) culture. Of course in any area, Japan’s society is strict with this issue, but it’s more obvious in bukatsu. Not to mention the greetings or the attention to use respectful language, but also kouhais putting away the equipment after every practice, or even cleaning the senpais’ clothes.
The most important and ultimate goal of the members is to win at the competition. It’s not about just enjoying the sports, the goal is to leave a good record for the school, to gain fame. Regarding that, any competition is valuable to the members. Mostly, competitions are held on the weekends or during breaks, but still some are on the weekdays. The situation where members have tournament on class day is a dillemma. But still, a lot of them will choose to go to the tournament because members consider bukatsu a priority. This was what surprised me at first, that even Todai students, would place bukatsu above classes.
So why, are students so passionate about getting into undoukai even with all the busy schedules and senpai-kouhai culture?
“The atmosphere and senpai-kouhai culture is not strict at all so I can enjoy the bukatsu at full. Plus, because the practice is three times a week I can do other things and never thought of it hectic since my middle/high school bukatsu was five times a week. Above all, I love saber and nothing’s gonna stop that!”(Hiromu Sasaya, Fencing team)
“Although it may be true that the practice schedule is strict, I can lean on my senpais and friends on the team. Since we practice together until the senior year, it’s really all about nakama(仲間, friend on your side). I enjoy lacrosse, but more than that, I love my teammates.”(Miku Sano, Women’s Lacrosse team)
This year, University of Tokyo is the host school of the 55th annual nanadaisen(七大戦), the competition between the seven old imperial schools in Japan. As the host school of the main event, it seems that members of each team will put in effort to organize the competition thoroughly, but will no doubt aim to leave with the highest scores ever.