Japanese University Experience: Circles and Part-time Jobs

University life in Tokyo is exciting, I have been a student at a university located in the center of Tokyo for three and a half years, and my journey so far has been full of new experiences and opportunities. My hometown is a three hour ride on a bullet train from Tokyo terminal, so coming to Tokyo made great changes in my life. It was my first time living alone away from my family and high school friends, my first time living in a huge city, and I knew nobody who was going to the same school. But, the excitement and anticipation towards this new life outshone my many anxieties.

Once school started, I joined two student activity groups, known as “circles.” Circles are one of the main aspects of Japanese college life. People with the same interests gather together (usually with no obligations and few responsibilities) and create organizations and activities for themselves. In most cases, your circle becomes a second home. One of the circles I joined was a volunteer group. This organization has several groups that each go to an area in Japan during the summer, and teach English to the local students. I joined wanting to put my English knowledge to use, and wanted to do volunteer teaching; something I had been doing during my last year in high school. The other circle I joined was a soccer team. I made many friends in these two circles, along with great life-long memories.

Circles range from volunteer groups to music bands, comedian clubs, and sport teams. There is always a group for you to join. During the first week of school, known as Freshman Week, all circles place their booths along the campus streets, giving out pamphlets, introducing their activities, and inviting freshman students to the circle’s dinner parties (usually held at inexpensive izakaya restaurants).

Once you are in a circle, there is the annual camp (gasshuku) to get to know each other better. In my case, my volunteer group stayed at a cabin where we had a barbeque and did fireworks, and for the soccer team, we practiced soccer and had a quick tournament and later stayed at a lodge. Depending on what kind of circle you join, you might have these camps frequently, meaning money flying out of your pockets.

Money is an issue for university students all around the world, especially for those living away from their parents. Japanese college students need money for school supplies, circles, food, and for play. The school I go to is in Tokyo, so wherever and whatever I do, I end up spending money. Hanging out with friends, means train fees accompanied by money for whatever we are doing; karaoke, dining, shopping, café hopping, Disneyland, DisneySea, you get the idea. So, the majority of students have part-time jobs or internships that pay. The most popular jobs are working at izakaya pubs and restaurants, tutoring, and waitering at cafes. However, there is always debate over part-time jobs; if students should be spending time working for pocket money when they should be studying. I think the ability to balance school, work, and friends, will eventually become a life skill, necessary for the future.