News Navigator: Why do Japanese schools organize club activities?


Students wearing masks maintain a school ground in the Tennoji district of Osaka in 2021. (Mainichi/Kenji Ikai)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about school club activities.

Question: Why is it that even on weekends when there is no class, we hear the joyful voices of children coming from the schools?

Answer: These are the voices of children in sports and cultural club activities such as baseball and marching bands. School teachers coach them. But children in Europe and the United States go to local clubs and learn the sport with professional coaches. Club activities conducted by teachers at school are a unique system in Japan.

Q: How did it become like this?

A: It originated with the “Koyukai” associations which were formed during the Meiji era (1868-1912) for competitive sports practiced in high schools and other schools under the old education system, and continued after the war. It was not until the 1970s that it became what it is today. In order to encourage more children to play sports, rather than bolstering only a small elite group, club activities became mandatory for middle school students in 1969 and for high school students in 1970.

Q: So the good parts of the system have been upgraded, right?

A: Indeed. Since activities can be organized at school with teachers even after school hours and the financial burden is low, it was an opportunity for children to play sports casually. On the other hand, it is a heavy burden for teachers who act as advisers, and since the 1970s, the Japan Teachers’ Union has argued that this is not the proper role of teachers. After much debate, the activities became extracurricular in accordance with program guidelines.

Q: Did it make a difference?

A: Although efforts are being made to reduce the load on teachers by inviting instructors from outside the school, club activities are still mainly carried out at school by teachers. The reason given is that there is not a sufficient system in place to provide an alternative to club activities.

Q: What will happen in the future?

A: The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology plans to eliminate club activities in middle schools in the future and shift the focus to children’s participation in sports and cultural activities towards the community. The department is considering comprehensive community sports clubs and universities as possible hosts for these clubs.

(Japanese original by Yuta Kobayashi, Sports Information Department)

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