School club activities and sports in Japanese culture
School Club ActivitiesWith the extremely high percentage of students enrolling in high schools (more than 97 percent in 2010, reported by Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan)(1), it can be reasonably assumed that the life of Japanese youth is substantially synonymous for the life of Japanese high and junior high school students: the youth’s life as a student occupies a large part of his/her life. In these circumstances, Japanese manga and anime have put a great emphasis, presumably perplexingly too great for non-Japanese audience, on school activities as their topics, especially those of school sports clubs.NAKAZAWA Atsushi enumerates five inexplicable things about the Japanese school activities system:(1)they are organized on a tremendous scale that cannot be observed in other countries, in spite of the fact that (2) they are extracurricular activities and not obligatory; and (3) they are not student-led activities but teacher/school-led, while (4) they are managed at the great expense of schools and, more importantly, of teachers involved; therefore (5) there have been attempts to transfer the responsibility to local communities, but in vain(2). It is a result of the complicated history of Japanese educational system after WWII. According to Nakazawa, the history of Japanese school (sports) club activities was that of amalgamation of, in short, democratism/egalitarianism and elitism/control-oriented education(3). In other words, extracurricular (especially sports) activities have been formally imposed upon students to nurture a liberal, fair spirit of sportsmanship in youth on one hand, and to control their ethics and lives in group (i.e., social) activities on the other. These apparently contradictory goals, interestingly, have served to provide a suitable stage for fierce competitions by good and earnest young students in Japanese juvenile narratives.
Sports Manga and the Battle NarrativeThis cultural soil has furnished other types of school club activities with opportunities to be featured in battle-narrative style stories. An epochal work for Japanese society was TAKAHASHI Yoichi’s Captain Tsubasa (or Flash Kicker, 1981-88 in Weekly Shonen Jump), which not only has left an unforgettable mark in the history of sports manga but also greatly helped football gain recognition among Japanese children and allegedly formed a basis for the establishment of the Japanese professional football league in 1991 [fig.1]. Fig.1. Captain Tsubasa, vol.1, cover page, by TAKAHASHI Yoichi, Shueisha 1989A football genius, Ozora Tsubasa moves to Nankatsu City and joins the football team of Nankatsu Elementary School to meet a series of formidable opponents and rivals. Though the stage is set in the world of elementary school clubs in the 1980s, the overall system is apparently taken from the Koshien narratives. It is interesting, however, that Captain Tsubasa, as ‘the’ predecessor of the football manga, utilizes some unrealistic superplays to entertain the target readers as did early baseball manga.Another genius can be found in KONOMI Takeshi’s Tennis-no Oji-sama (Prince of Tennis, 1999-2008 in Weekly Shonen Jump and a new series 2009 to present in Jump Square). The protagonist, Echizen Ryoma, who has proven his abilities by winning junior championships in the US, comes back to Japan to join Seishun Junior High School tennis club and aims for the national championship with his teammates[fig.2]. Significantly, for our purpose, the games described in the work are exclusively those of team competition: each player plays as a member of the school he/she belongs to.
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Non-physical CompetitionsIn non-physical kinds of sports, however, this limitation can be much more easily breached, as, in theory, the younger is capable of surpassing their elders mentally and intellectually. This is more obvious on the surface of the board of go, a traditional far-eastern board game with black and white pieces of stone, where there are strict rules binding the players regardless of their age or sex. HOTTA Yumi and OBATA Takeshi’s Hikaru-no Go (Hikaru’s Go, 1999-2003 in Weekly Shonen Jump) has supplied the protagonist Shindo Hikaru with a true ‘genius’, someone who gives instructions to the person he/she haunts: a prodigious go player of the 10th (or 11th) century, Fujiwara-no Sai[fig.7]. By thus visualizing the ‘genius’ separate from the boy, the work discloses the structure of boys’ battle narrative. Fig.7. Hikaru-no Go, vol.1, p136, by © HOTTA Yumi and OBATA Takeshi, Shueisha 1999In Yu-Gi-Oh! (Game King!, 1996-2004 in Weekly Shonen Jump) by TAKAHASHI Kazuki[fig.8], the protagonist Yugi is forced to beat successive opponents, in various kinds of non-athletic games in the early stage and in the Duel Monsters card game in the latter episodes. Even here, Yugi is equipped with a genius by awakening his other, dark self during playing card games. Fig.8. Yu-Gi-Oh!, vol.10, cover page, by TAKAHASHI Kazuki, Shueisha 1998When the match is judged by some connoisseurs, the story becomes calmer and more realistic, while leaving room for the younger to accomplish remarkable achievements. The MasterChef-like competition is introduced in the classic Mister Ajikko (1986-90 in Weekly Shonen Magazine) by TERASAWA Daisuke[fig.9], in which Ajiyoshi Yoichi, a 14-year-old boy, helps his mother to manage a small restaurant after the death of his father who was a renowned cook. He, with his talent in cooking and inexhaustible culinary ideas, participates in the Taste Emperor’s Grand Prix competitions with a variety of rival chefs, being judged usually by the Taste Emperor Murata Genjiro. Fig.9. Mister Ajikko, vol.19, cover page, by TERASAWA Daisuke, Kodansha-Mangabunko 1990And this competitive framework is found in a more unexpected quarter of Japanese calligraphy. Tomehane! (Full Stop and Upward Turn, 2007-08 in Weekly Young Sunday and 2008-15 in Big Comic Spirits)[fig.10] mainly describes the high school life of boys and girls devoted to Japanese calligraphy club activities, but every now and then the story is coloured by private and public competitions of calligraphy[fig.11]. In this story, the protagonist Oe Yukari, though naturally dexterous in handling things, has little experience in the art, but with earnest training, he develops his skills and becomes evaluated highly by connoisseurs. Fig.10. Tomehane!, vol.3, p103, by KAWAI Katsutoshi, Shogakkan 2008 Fig.11. Tomehane!, vol.3, p121, by KAWAI Katsutoshi, Shogakkan 2008The list of works here briefly surveyed delineates, we should notice, an established formula for enabling the youthful protagonist to remain a hero without unrealistic devices like ninjutsu or magic. By limiting the arena exclusively for students or by dealing with games with strict rules which any participants are required to observe, the audience is allowed to enjoy the sincere struggles of the youth with the sense of a certain degree of realism.
An Introduction to Japanese Subcultures
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