This past November 3-5, Tohoku University had celebrated their 69th annual university festival! To say I was lucky with this year’s theme is an understatement; the festival felt nostalgic even for me, an international student who has never been to a single festival in his life! It was an absolutely wonderful experience that I hope to experience again someday. Unlike most other festivals, Tohoku University’s festival is almost completely student-run. From the booths, stalls, and events to the committee in charge of running the whole festival, there are very few hired staff. That is one key difference I have noticed overall between Japanese and American culture; the idea of unity and working towards a goal larger than each individual that makes the festival.
Once entering campus, the first notable thing is the fact that the bicycle parking lot was completely full. It is no exaggeration when I say that everyone in Japan bikes. Luckily for me, I had the premonition that the parking lot would be full so I had walked. Upon entering the festival grounds, several students were seen walking around holding signs to come to their stall or booth to purchase their products. Each booth is run by one circle or club, each with their own interest or hobby. Most of the sports clubs ran the booths selling an endless variety of foodstuffs. From takoyaki (deep-fried octopus-filled dough balls drizzled with mayonnaise, seaweed, and green onion, hungry yet?) to baked sweet potato to steamed fish to fried chicken to taiyaki (Japanese fish-shaped cake filled with a sweet red bean paste), it was a bonanza of unhealthy treats from one end of the campus to the other! Some stalls even sold unique meals such as gnocchi (Italian pasta made with potato) and chocolate-covered bananas! Let’s just say no one went home with an empty stomach.
For most of the non-sports clubs and circles, they ran specific booths within the classrooms. It was eye-opening to see how many unique clubs there actually were in Tohoku University, as well as how passionate these students were for their interests. Many of the instrumental clubs had created cafés within the classrooms to showcase mastery of their respective tools while offering a hot refreshment and a sweet treat; I had gone and visited the brass instrument club at their cafe Ensemble Café Dolce. The robotics club had gone and created multiple robots that had performed different functions, many of which were catered for children to have fun with. The body-building club had a “test your strength” game, where if you could bench half your weight at least 40 times, you would receive a prize! There was even a model-train club (you can guess what they showcased) and a Pokémon club where students, children, and adults alike were all battling one another through video game, card, and plush toys!
Even still, for many of the clubs without a unique interest, such as the Chinese Student Association, there were multitudes of options for them to use, specifically the use of a haunted house! For 100 Yen (around $1 dollar), you could try your best to not pee yourself with all of their jump scares! I had entered with two other friends, and, as much as I knew it was all fake, couldn’t help but jump from all their well-timed scares.
There were many performances as well! Tohoku’s dance club, WHO, performed many dances for the public, and their Kendo and Judo clubs showcased their martial arts. My absolute favorite was a performance by the Piano club, who used electronic pianos to replicate the noise of other instruments such as wind, percussion, and string instruments. They were an absolutely beautiful sight to see and even more to listen to! The end of the night came with two competitions, one of which came as surprising. The first competition was to select Mr. and Miss Tohoku University, your standard beauty pageant really. However, the second competition was actually a drag show! The audience was encouraged to vote for their favorite “girl” through an online voting system and Miss Tohoku would crown them as the crowd favorite. They threw snacks to the crowd as fireworks snapped, crackled, and popped in the air and the festival came to a close.
There were many things I had skipped (mostly because I’d be writing a novel if I had written the whole experience), but there were many things that had left a huge imprint on my mind after the whole charade was over. The most important thought, as previously stated, was the Japanese people’s idea of working towards a greater goal rather than to each individual. I had noticed many students who spent their whole time at the festival working to make sure everything ran smoothly, and did not bother spending time at the booths and playing with their friends. The students who ran booths at their respective clubs and circles worked from morning til night selling and serving. Combined with their polite actions and accommodations towards those unable to speak Japanese, it was a wonderful event that makes me wish that American universities had something similar. I will miss the past few days, but I look forward to many more festivals Sendai has to offer for the next 10 months!