By Kyle Smith
On May 14th and 15th the University of Tokyo’s 89th annual May Festival, Gogatsusai, was held at the University of Tokyo’s Hongo campus.
The two-day event featured booths, performances, and competitions run by the University of Tokyo’s many clubs and associations, called “sakuru”, or circles. According to the event pamphlet, this year’s May Festival included over 230 student-run attractions, not including their even more numerous scheduled events and performances.
Attractions ranged from sporting events to food stalls to information booths to event stages. Circles used attractions like these to promote and fundraise for themselves, offering entertainment, cultural insight, and unique festival foods to attendees.
Students played in and cheered on sports, put their hearts into musical performances, and dedicated their time to long shifts at festival stalls, with some students volunteering to staying almost all day both days doing several such tasks. Students dedicated to their circles didn’t seem too phased by long hours, with one U. Tokyo student calling their time volunteering at the May Festival “exhaustingly fun”.
Among the sporting events shown was a nail-biting match between The University of Tokyo and Waseda University’s women’s lacrosse teams. U. Tokyo’s team, “Celeste”, emerged victorious by one point, cheered on by U. Tokyo’s very own oenbu (pep band).
The festival was not a quiet one, with stages dedicated to U. Tokyo’s talented musicians and dancers. Visitors were greeted by a cappella performances at the iconic akamon, Hongo campus’ huge red gate, and further inside the campus were able to see a large scale dance-battle—if they could see over the enormous crowd.
International circles shared their culture with food, drink, and demonstrations, with such fine examples of Russian alcohol samples and a wonderful interactive display of Indian dance.
Massive crowds dwarfed those seen at Komaba campus’ Komaba Festival last year, filling the sprawling Hongo campus to the brim with foot traffic. Most attendees of the May Festival were students from U. Tokyo and other neighboring universities, with many parents and siblings tagging along to see the great efforts put into the event.
The May Festival also acted as a “window into Todai”, where high school students may catch glimpses of university life. “Onakura” or same year students, students were also able to see what their classmates’ interests are outside of the classroom.
Relationships were a key part of a good festival experience, helping event-goers choose between the literal hundreds of options present. Festival attendees made sense of navigating the large campus by settings courses for the booths of friends and family.
One might have also make choices based on maeuriken (presale tickets), which were sold in the weeks prior to the festival, offering festival goods and services at a discount. “You have to make sure you know the right people”, said one student volunteer, advising festival goers to save money by limiting purchases to maeuriken and those benefitting friends.
Many circles put booth proceeds towards uchiage closing parties, where volunteers are able to rest and celebrate a job well done.
And a job well done it was. This year’s Gogatsusai offered endless amusement thanks to the commitment of many dedicated U. Tokyo student volunteers.