Life in a Japanese School
By Maiko Covington

Date: Sat, 30 Mar 1991 00:34:23 GMT

Hello, this is Maiko again. This time I am going to write about yet another event - bunkasai. Once again I offer my standard disclaimer - I have had no training whatsoever in sociology or related fields, so all opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I also have a request - many people have been asking me to mail them copies of the Parts they have missed, but I seem to be missing some. If someone out there has been collecting these, would you be so kind as to send me copies of them? Thank you very much.

Bunkasai is an event held once each year - usually in the fall. Literally the word 'bunkasai' tranlates as 'culture festival', but I feel this word does not do it justice...

Basically what bunkasai is is a big festival put on by the school, where you sell tickets and let outsiders in. Money raised goes to the school funds. It lasts from a few days to a week, or in some places 2 days plus a Sunday, or some like that. During this time the whole school is decorated, and each class and club puts on an 'event'. The events are basically food shops, exhibitions, games, or sales. At both my junior high school and high school, each class and club was allotted one whole classroom or half of one, depending on what their event was to be.

The first step is to decide what sort of event you would put on. Some of the ones I have done were a newspaper shredding search game, game show type things, a yakisoba stand, a maze, and, in the second and third years of high school, an ice cream stand. I was in the manga-bu (comics club) and for that, we always would
(1) display our drawings and comic books we had drawn, and
(2) draw things like bookmarks and postcards at people's request.
These last we would sell for about 50 - 100 yen, and the drawings were either auctioned off or else sold for a higher price. Just about every school's manga-bu does this.

I was also in the English club, and mostly we would have a typewriter for people to play with, and conversation going on, and maybe American TV videos. I remember in the second grade of high school we had a "mistaken English contest". What we did was take pictures of signs with bad English on them from all over Tokyo, and the person who could find all the errors would get prizes. Unfortunately, I was ineligible ^_^.

The newspaper shredding search game was like this: for 50 yen people got 5 minutes in a huge classroom full up with newspaper shreddings (man, did it ever take a long time to shred those - my fingers ache with memory). We hid some stuff in there, from paper streamers to erasers to more expensive stuff like pencil boxes. Anything you found, you could keep.

For the maze, we made a maze of tunnels out of cardboard boxes, and made it so that as soon as you entered the door you had to go in there. It was pitch black, and we made ghosts come out and stuff. Lastly for the ice cream stand we made it '21 flavors' because we were 2 nen 1 kumi, and we bought ice cream from Meiji, which we sold for 50 yen or so a scoop.

Before any other preparation, there is a 'oosouzi no hi' where you have to clean the classroom really well and take home all the stuff like people's old umbrellas, or else put it in your locker. This is maybe a week beforehand. Then, you have to start making all the decorations. Also at this time, you are given your tickets to sell to your family and friends who don't go to this school. Each person would get 5 tickets. The decorations would get to be so elaborate that you almost wouldn't know it was a school!

The first kind is, posters. For the ice cream store, we researched all the different ice cream chains in Tokyo, and put up a poster about each (when it was founded, main stores, service, specialty etc). Also you have to make advertising posters. These are drawn on copy paper and then run off onto piles of newsprint. They will be handed out to people and also hung all over the walls and such. You make some color posters to hang in prominent places, and also a sign to put on the door of the classroom. You also have to put signs up saying where your event is - in room 204 or 2 nen 1 kumi or wherever. As well as posters, somebody has to draw a promotion to put in the annai, or guide. For the ice cream store we had to make price lists too. This involved thinking up original names for all the ice cream flavors. This took a while... all of them were inside jokes, or plays on fads etc. For example, the vanilla was called "vanilla do.eijyun" because our teacher's name was Eijyun Sakaki and he was pale, and also because he once told us how he went to USA and couldn't order vanilla because everyone thought he was saying banana. The pineapple was "ice pine cosine theta" for some reason, and etc.etc.

The next thing is to disguise the classroom. For the ice cream store, we made crepe paper streamers for the ceiling, and made those tissue paper flowers (those are one of the most popular decorations) to put everywhere. They were red and white, and we put them around all the ice-cream research posters, and around the clock and around the door on the outside. Some people made tablecloths to put on the desks, which were arranged into tables. For the newspaper game, I remember we wallpapered the walls with travel posters. For the tunnel game we didn't have to decorate the inside of the classroom, but on the outside we made these posters to look scary, with pictures of monsters and blood on them, and we made those paper flowers to put around the door, of course. For just about every event we did, we would make these little 3-D paper stars and hang them from the ceiling by thread. They look neat. During all of this, people stay late after school, sometimes as late as 8 o'clock on the day before it's to open. We also had to get the ice-cream delivered (and a freezer to put it in) get the ice-cream scoopers, and arrange for someone to bring a boom box and tapes. During bunkasai there are tape players everywhere playing all kinds of hit songs etc. Also we had to decide what to wear. You have to wear your uniform, but on that day you can wear a sweatshirt or sweater of your choice over it. We also decided who would work what shifts. Finally everything was ready... and I will have to tell you the rest later as I have a bus to catch! Thank you for reading this... the continuation is on the way.

Maiko Covington
All replies should be to my e-mail.

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Additional Info:
Life in A Japanese School By Maiko Covington.
Her text has remained true to her original posting. The overall title of this section was chosen to best represent her articles rather than "My High School Days" as originally titled by Maiko-san. Her articles were originally posted and may be found here: My High School Days. You may reach her at the this email: as email in article is old and defunct.

She has been asked if she will write some more of these and her answer is, "The answer to that question is, not likely in the near future. The events in those posts occurred more than 10 years ago now, and I honestly don't think I could get myself into the same frame of mind."