Helping International Students Find English-Taught Undergraduate and Postgraduate Programs at Japanese Universities

I. What are Clubs and Circles?

Generally speaking, extracurricular activity groups can be divided into two forms.

First, there are official, university-authorized groups called “clubs”. Clubs are financially backed by universities and often involve sports activities, so trainings tend to be frequent and very demanding. Club members mostly train for competitions and games.
A characteristic of Japanese clubs is the “age-based hierarchy” custom (jōge kankei in Japanese). Junior students (kōhai) must show respect for senior students (sempai). For example, they address their sempai in an honorific language which is very different from the way they talk to their peers (dōkyūsei) and kōhai. Also, juniors sometimes have to take seating arrangements into consideration at meetings and parties so that the sempai can sit at the seats of honor.
You might be unfamiliar with this traditional custom, but it is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and can also be seen at companies, etc.

Secondly, there are unofficial groups run by students: “circles”. In most cases, circles don’t receive any aid from universities and cover a wider variety of activities than clubs. While some circles take their activities seriously, others tend to place more emphasis on having fun. Accordingly, age-based hierarchical relationships in circles usually are less strict than in clubs.
It is also common for two or more circles in one university to share the same kind of activities. In that case, you should choose the one that best suits you based on the frequency and toughness of trainings, the overall atmosphere, and so on.

Let’s give an example to illustrate the difference between the two types of groups. For instance, a tennis club involves hard training for meets, where members compete and represent their university. On the other hand, many tennis circles focus more on cultivating friendship through tennis, practicing to relieve stress, and gathers for parties or drinks.


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