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Japan’s Unique Campus Festivals: Unwinding at Two Prestigious Universities in Tokyo!

Japan’s Unique Campus Festivals: Unwinding at Two Prestigious Universities in Tokyo!

Date published: 28 January 2019
Last updated: 24 January 2019

Campus Festivals - known in Japanese as gakuensai - are incredibly vivid, festive events when practical every university student gets together to show their school colors. (Think homecoming, but on a huger scale!) Held in autumn, you can see these massive festivals coloring academic areas of Tokyo and other cities as they host a variety of events, contests, presentations and more in a gorgeous gathering of students, alumni and community.

Recently, many universities have started to try organizing campus festivals which international guests can enjoy as well. Follow along as we join in this year's events and share a glimpse into this curious aspect of Japanese culture!

Among the efforts of making campus festivals enjoyable for international visitors are multilingual tours that guide non-Japanese speakers through the event. We’ll join the tours at Ochanomizu University and Aoyama Gakuin University, two of Tokyo's most prestigious universities.

Meet Two Participants of The Campus Festival Tours!

Meet Two Participants of The Campus Festival Tours!

Pamela (left) and Katja (right) from Germany will be taking part in these multilingual campus festival tours. Both of them have lived in Japan for a long time, but it’s their first time participating in a campus festival tour!
Pamela: “I visited a campus festival when I studied in Japan, but I’ve never been on a tour like this!”
Katja: “It’s my first time. We don’t have campus festivals outside Japan so I’m looking forward to it.”

About Ochanomizu's Multilingual Campus Festival Tour

The “Campus Festival 2018 English Tour” was organized to showcase the charms of campus festivals and Japanese culture to international visitors and students. This year, Ochanomizu University and Aoyama Gakuin University featured such tours. Both universities have created their tours’ content through trial and error, making them a genuinely special experience. The tours are free, and participants will be guided by the staff in English and Japanese. On top of that, the tours were also promoted on Twitter and received many applications from international visitors.

Ochanomizu University’s “Kiin Festival”

Ochanomizu University’s “Kiin Festival”

This year is the 69th anniversary of Ochanomizu University’s “Kiin Festival.” This festival won first place among campus festivals in the Greater Tokyo Area at the Campus Festival Grand Prix 2016. This year’s concept is “Ochanomizu Era”. Visitors get to enjoy both traditional and modern culture in various events and exhibitions.

Ochanomizu University's Guided Tour and Its “Japanese Culture” Theme

Ochanomizu University's Guided Tour and Its “Japanese Culture” Theme

What’s special about Ochanomizu University’s tour is how it introduces Japanese culture. One of the first things that visitors see when going straight ahead from the main gate is the university’s main building. This building is a tangible cultural property and it's bursting with a historical atmosphere. The tour starts here.

There are many booths and exhibitions inside the festival that let visitors experience unique aspects of Japanese culture first-hand.

First, we encounter the Japanese tea ceremony. The staff gives an explanation of the different schools of the Japanese tea ceremony, and participants are also told where to Japanese tea on the campus and how much it costs. “Tea ceremony aside, I love Japan's culture of drinking tea every day,” said Pamela. Drinking tea makes you calm. Maybe that’s a shared belief in many countries.

There are explanations in English and Japanese about Japanese traditional arts such as classical music called sokyoku and Noh theater. The staff also explains when and where to see these performances.

Participants can see and listen in on students doing final preparations for their performances.

Get to Know Both Traditional and Modern Culture!

Get to Know Both Traditional and Modern Culture!

Next is the Japanese calligraphy club. Here, the participants can try their hand at writing Japanese calligraphy. There is also an exhibition of unique calligraphy works done by students.

This is the Idol Research Club. They practice idol dances and songs, then perform them on stage! This showcases Japan's modern culture next to the traditional aspects.

Last but not least: the International Students Room. In here, participants enjoy traditional Japanese games such as karuta and shogi, as well as Othello, while interacting with Ochanomizu students.

Pamela and Katja challenged themselves to a game of Hyakunin Isshu, a card game of poems.

Whether you can speak Japanese or not, this energetic game isn't only fun but also gives you a glimpse into the world of Japanese poetry.

Finish with Japanese-style Souvenirs!

Finish with Japanese-style Souvenirs!

There’s a belief in Japan that 5-yen coins (pronounced as go-en in Japanese) symbolize gratitude for the bonds between people (also pronounced as go-en in Japanese). Tour participants received a 5-yen coin tied to a red string (symbolizing “destiny”).

On top of that, we got simple Japanese sweets and oyster soy sauce.

They’re both happy to get some souvenirs!

The tour ends with a fun group photo together with the staff!

Must Try! Ochanomizu Campus Festival’s Hottest Item “Tokiwa Jiruko”

Must Try! Ochanomizu Campus Festival’s Hottest Item “Tokiwa Jiruko”

Tokiwa jiruko is a dish so popular that every year, there are people who go to the Ochanomizu Campus Festival just to eat it. the meal tickets always sell out in a flash and you have to wait in a long queue to eat it.

This is tokiwa jiruko, an exquisite food you can only taste at Ochanomizu University. It contains chewy shirotama mochi balls and white sweet beans in matcha green tea.

Pamela and Katja try some tokiwa jiruko.

Katja: “Delicious! I love this mild sweetness!”
Pamela: “I’ve never had this before, and it’s very delicious.” Both of them finished their bowls in no time.

Get Prizes from Campus Stamp Rally!

Get Prizes from Campus Stamp Rally!

Stamps are placed in various places around the campus. If you collect them all, you get a chance to participate in a lottery to get amazing prizes. Of course, Pamela and Katja joined the hunt.

After collecting all of them, they went to the lottery registration.

Every participant will get some kind of prize, so turn the wheel and hope for fabulous wins!

Although they didn’t get the first prize, they each won an energy drink and skin cream pack.

Aoyama Gakuin University’s “Aoyama Festival” at Aoyama Campus

Aoyama Gakuin University’s “Aoyama Festival” at Aoyama Campus

Aoyama Festival is one of Japan's most well-known campus festivals in Japan. Held at the Aoyama Campus of Aoyama Gakuin University, it is visited by more than 150,000 people every year.

This year’s theme is “FLASH: Love this moment.” Students of Aoyama Gakuin University wanted to give the visitors an unforgettable moment to remember.

Aoyama Campus English Tour with Miss International

Aoyama Campus English Tour with Miss International

Aoyama Festival English tour aims to spread the culture of campus festivals to the world, so it is joined by Miss International contestants from various countries! The tour quickly became packed.

Everyone is so gorgeous!

Pamela and Katja had a great talk with their fellow countrywoman German Miss International.

Introducing the Booths on the Main Road

Introducing the Booths on the Main Road

The tour starts with an explanation of Aoyama Festival. The main route starts at the main gate, inviting participants to enjoy the many special booths put up by the university’s organizations. Along with food stalls serving delicious yakitori, a type of chicken skewer popular at Japanese campus festivals, there are also unusual booths that offer American classics such as S’mores. Wading through the crowds to get to these booths is a bit of a challenge, however, as the Aoyama Festival is very popular.

The tour is joined by Miss International contestants from many countries, and they became the center of attention. “There’s so many people watching! I’m kind of embarrassed,” said Katja.

This is one of Aoyama Campus’ symbols, the Goucher Memorial Chapel. It is used for many events and lectures, as well as university mass. It’s a pity that we can’t take a look inside, but even from the outside, it's obvious what a gorgeous building this is.

Taking on Japanese Calligraphy!

Taking on Japanese Calligraphy!

Next, we move on to the Japanese calligraphy exhibition.

Participants get to write their own favorite Japanese characters, and Pamela and Katja pick up the brush as well.

Pamela wrote 萌 (moe) because she likes the shape of this character. Katja loves cats so she wrote the character for them, 猫 (neko). Their calligraphy has gentle and warm strokes.

Next is the ikebana flower arrangement exhibition. Unlike Western flower arrangement, ikebana is all about simplicity and subtlety.

This is the end of the English tour that introduced the highlights of campus festivals.

Tasting Yakitori, a Popular Dish at Izakaya

Tasting Yakitori, a Popular Dish at Izakaya

Yakitori is a popular food in Japan’s traditional pubs called izakaya, generally enjoyed with beer. During the tour, participants only got to pass the booth, so let’s have our friends actually try it.

It’s nice to be able to enjoy great Japanese food so easily.

Experience Various Events with Plenty of Charm!

Experience Various Events with Plenty of Charm!

This festival has so many interesting events, it’s hard to decide which to check out first. Among all of them, horror-loving Pamela and Katja can’t help but get interested in the horror house that incorporates video technology. So here we go.

Unfortunately, we can’t talk about what exactly this spooky experience was, but judging from their expressions, it looks like they had a blast!

Impressions on Their First Campus Festival Tour

Impressions on Their First Campus Festival Tour

Katja: “I really enjoyed all of the booths and cultural activities, and the upbeat atmosphere made everything a lot of fun. There were many visitors, and it amazed me how popular the event was. Of course, it’s great to have the guides explain things in English.”

“There was so much delicious food! I love Japanese traditional culture and the town’s atmosphere, so getting introduced to more of that on this tour got me even more interested. I was surprised by how many visitors there were,” adds Pamela with a laugh.

Campus Festivals, Autumn’s Annual Event Bustling with Energy!

Campus Festivals, Autumn’s Annual Event Bustling with Energy!

Japanese universities put a lot of effort into their campus festivals so that they can be enjoyed not only by students, but also by children, adults, and tourists. The festivals all have their own unique atmosphere and concept, making each of them a unique and fun experience. Organized by the students themselves, each festival has an inviting air of excitement to it as well.

There are also many events held in cooperation with local organizations and companies. Checking out collaborations you can’t find anywhere else is one of the many joys of campus festivals. It’s also a valuable chance to go inside a Japanese university, something you can’t usually do. Many universities are trying to incorporate multilingual tours into their festival planning, so look forward to campus festivals as one of the special events of Japanese autumn!

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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