Join the club

Recent years have brought forth a slew of anime about school clubs. K-On! had the light music club, Haruhi had the SOS Brigade, MM! had the Second Voluntary Club, Haganai had the “make friends” club and so on. Most anime viewers in the West take these clubs with a grain of salt. Can such clubs exist in real life Japan or are they fictitious creations meant for the sole purpose of spicing up school life series for our enjoyment?

Well, the short answer is no, the SOS Brigade or the “make friends” club would never be allowed to exist in a real high school.
Why not? First of all, every club needs an advisor – a teacher which is responsible for the safety or the students involved in the club. He/She usually have background in the field of said club and can advise on club activities (hence the name advisor). To form a club in a Japanese high school there are certain rules that must be followed, and securing an advisor is on such rule. So even if there were those with the will to form a “host club”, they will have to find a teacher who is willing to be their advisor. That can be quite a challenging feat considering your club activities consist of entertaining girls, drinking tea and eating cake. In high school, most of the teachers are already involved in one or two permanent clubs (such as the kendo club or the music club) and will not take upon themselves a club which seems inappropriate or absurd.
Second, the number of clubs allowed to operate at the same time is predetermined by the each school, so even if you have an amazing idea for a club and did find a teacher who has the time and will to become your advisor, you might end up in a waiting list for club formation. This basically means your club will be on-hold until another club folds or is deemed inactive.
So yes, your average school anime uses clubs which in reality would not have been approved. There are exceptions of course: anime series usually do a good job when it comes to portraying sport clubs. Furthermore, sub categories of popular clubs (the light music club is a sub category of the music/instrumental club) do exist. And lastly, everything I wrote above does not hold in the case of private schools, in which exclusive clubs might be formed.

A band inspired by K-On! The subtitles translate to:
“I watched the K-On! anime and it looked like good fun so I joined the club”

But wait, I said that the short answer to the question is no. The longer, yet simple, answer is indeed yes – most of these clubs can be formed in real life Japan. But not in high schools. They are made possible in a later time in life, when Japanese students don’t need to worry too much about tests and have exponentially more time on their hands for clubs – their university years. In the university clubs can be formed without the need for an advisor. Moreover university clubs can indulge in much longer and extravagant activities. For example a hiking club, while hard to be found in your average high school, is quite common in Japanese universities. I studied for my Master’s degree in Soka university (located in Tokyo’s Hachioji quarter) and we had tons of these clubs – the ski club, the hiking club, the onsen club (a club for onsen loving folks who want to try onsen in different parts of Japan), the electronic music club, you name it!
I know what you’re thinking: these are all normal clubs. Are there any crazy clubs à la anime series? Yet again the answer is a definitive yes. I was walking on campus one day when I spotted a sign board advertising several new clubs. Among these was “the chocolate lovers’ club”. The informative pamphlet specified it as a club “for chocolate lovers by chocolate lovers. Join us as we sample chocolate from all over Japan and go on expeditions in search of the perfect chocolate delicacy”. Alongside this club was a pamphlet advertising the gourmet club, which worked on a similar premise.

Three attractive girls and one worthless guy decide to form a chocolate club in their local high
school. Each of them works hard to create the perfect chocolate
with the dream that one day
they can give it to their secret love as a present.
In the final episode it turns out all the attractive
girls were madly in love with the
worthless guy and give him their chocolate hearts. The series
will be called
Chocolate Club Craze, but after the first episode everyone will refer to it as CCC.

I usually ate my lunch at about 3:30 pm, but one day I finished early and arrived at the cafeteria at around two o’clock. I was surprised to find that several people had connected some tables around the (seldom used) TV monitor and were watching a drama series. I walked in and curiously asked as to what they were doing. It turned out they were the self-proclaimed “drama watching club”. They formed the club to watch their regular drama series, which always aired on the same hour they took their lunch break. Creating the drama watching club didn’t garner them any special rights, except maybe the right the use the TV itself. It was more like an alliance of like-minded drama fans who spent the rest of their day studying at their respective faculties. And that’s exactly the difference between high school clubs and university clubs. Sure, you can join the Karate club even in the university and you will most likely be greeted by Karate experts with years of experience under their 3rd Dan Karate belt. But you can also try to indulge in your personal hobbies and create a less formal club of like-minded folks. The bottom line is this: clubs in Japan, just like any other country, are created to serve as a framework for like-minded people. Be it the Judo club, or the “we Love Plus club”.

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