We are excited to share special messages from AU students who are currently studying in Japan. These include insights and observations that you might find especially useful when you arrive in Japan. Please feel free to leave a comment and let us know your thoughts or questions.
Circles, Clubs, and Social Groups
At Ritsumeikan, there are no fraternities or sororities. Here, social groups are determined by your major, and club activities. If you want to make Japanese friends, joining a circle is the best way to do it.
There is a clear distinction between clubs and circles – clubs demand more time, money, and higher levels of skill. But, circles still require dedication. In comparison to AU, Japanese circles are the most similar to American clubs, which Japanese clubs are for more serious athletes, musicians, and performers. At AU, club membership is fairly fluid – you can attend club meetings every week, or once a month, or only when pizza is offered, and it’s fairly acceptable. In my short experience at Ritsumeikan, circles require more frequent meeting attendance, and very rarely is food used to draw new members in.
Finding a Circle
Finding circles to join is the easy part – Like every other university, Ritsumeikan held an activity fair. AU’s fair pales in comparison to the one thrown by Ritsumeikan, which has everything from waterskiing circles to a cat circle. Walking around campus during the activities fair was very overwhelming.
There are many things that are different from what happens at AU. There are so many flyers. Expect to come home with a tall stack of flyers that are likely to be completely in Japanese. Although the Japanese tend to be very eco-friendly, they have no qualms about paper use – something that’s noticeable in many facets of university life. At AU, most club members stand behind a table, while, at Ritsumeikan, they hand out flyers, chant in unison, and do their best to show off what their club does. If you talk to a circle representative, they will often ask you to sit down, and go into a detailed explanation about the circle. Depending on your Japanese skill, it might be a good idea to take a friend with you to make sure you get the full scope of what each circle has to offer. The best part – unlike AU, you don’t have to give out your email address to circles, so you don’t have to worry about getting annoying emails after the activity fair.
Circles for Foreigners
Some circles will avoid foreigners. There’s nothing more awkward than watching every person around you be handed a flyer and wonder why you’re being skipped over. But, this is not something to take personally. Some circles have high membership fees, while other clubs require buying equipment and uniforms that the average exchange student wouldn’t want to take on. Some circles are more foreign-friendly than others. Circles that are looking to expand and include international students will be more eager to find members. They’ll have flyers with English information or members who speak English.
Choosing a Circle
Once you’ve sifted through your stack of flyers from the activities fair, the next step is to choose which circles you think you might join. Each circle has someone who handles communication – their email address will usually be on the flyer. Many circles also have twitter accounts and LINE groups. There are three things to keep in mind when deciding which circle to join; price, time commitment, and travel. Circle membership ranges from 500 yen to 10,000 yen and beyond. My soccer circle meets twice per week, but the ping pong circle meets 5 days per week. Most circles don’t meet on campus – if you have a bike in Japan, then you can get to most meetings easily, but beware of circles that require taking trains which cost a lot of time and money. My suggestion is to find a circle for 5,000 yen or less, with meetings 2-3 times per week, and with meeting places that can be reached within 30 minutes by bike.
There are so many reasons to join a circle if you attend a Japanese university. Classes in Japan require far less reading and writing than those at AU, so you’ll have more free time. Joining a circle will get you out of your dorm and give you an opportunity to interact with Japanese students which is the best way to improve your speaking skills. You’re sure to find a circle that interests you and find Japanese students who share that interest.