In Japan, joining a group or club can be fun or serious, and is a good way to meet people and practice Japanese. But it can be a daunting task joining a group that you don’t know much about, in another language no less. “Will it be welcoming?” and “Will my language skills be an issue?” are just some of the questions you might find yourself asking. Here we’ll answer some of the questions that might be on your mind.
What kind of clubs are there?
At most universities in Japan clubs are separated into two types: サークル (society) and 部活 (club). Societies are more relaxed, and mainly for enjoyment, whereas clubs are more serious, and mainly for people who want to commit.
Sadly, in the adult world, the distinction is less obvious. It may be more difficult to figure out if a club you are trying to join is for serious members or just for a bit of fun. Here are some indicators to look out for if you want a laid-back club:
- Pay-per-use membership
- Open schedule (no need to visit X days per week)
- Words associated with beginner level are used, such as 初心者, 初級, or ベギナー
As for the clubs themselves, you can find a huge variety of different fields and hobbies to choose from. From judo and tennis to calligraphy and cooking, there’s no shortage of things to try out.
How much do they cost?
Of course, this depends entirely on the activity and where you choose to do it, but we can give you a bit of an idea.
For a one-off class or a 体験 “experience”, which is a bit like a trial lesson, you can expect to pay between ¥0 – ¥6,000.
For a regular activity or gym membership, you can expect to pay upwards of ¥8,000 per month. This is highly dependent on the activity, and there may also be an initial fee to join their membership.
You may be able to find free experiences in your local area, or discounts for residents.
How committed do you need to be?
Again, this depends on the club! Most laid-back places have no restrictions. Many places offer membership options that allow you to visit as little or as much as you like each month.
However, if you join a serious or professional club, of course you will be expected to attend every session.
Usually, one-off classes and experiences are laid-back, because it’s just a one-time thing. Sports classes will also be laid-back and allow you to come and go when you like. But tennis clubs, and other sports clubs, may expect more commitment. The easiest way to find out about commitment and expectations is to simply ask! Most owners and teachers are very happy to answer questions, and would rather you understand what’s expected before joining.
Do clubs in Japan accept foreigners?
The answer to this question lies not in your ethnicity, but in your Japanese language ability. At least, for the most part.
Most clubs are happy to have anyone join regardless of their background – that means more money for them, after all! But there may be some hesitation if you don’t speak any Japanese. This makes sense, because if you joined a calligraphy class and you can’t understand that the teacher is telling you to hold your brush upright, you’ve already stumbled at the first hurdle.
If possible, it’s a good idea to try out a taster session before committing to a club. That way, not only can you find out if you enjoy the activity, but you’ll get an idea of whether you’ll be able to follow the class in Japanese.
Particularly in Tokyo and larger cities, there are clubs and groups that offer English language support and services, but they are not the norm. It’s always a good idea to have a few situation-specific Japanese phrases at the ready.
Especially with sports, there are usually certain ways to greet the group.
For example, at my kickboxing gym, we say the following in these scenarios:
- Entering the facility: こんにちは – hello (everyone responds)
- Leaving the facility: お疲れ様です – good job (everyone responds)
- Before starting a fight: お願いします – please
- After finishing a fight: お疲れ様です (otsukaresama desu)
- After finishing a fight with an instructor: ありがとうございました – thank you
These will be largely the same for most sports, and they’re easy to pick up because everyone around you says them all the time.
Pay attention to how people greet each other at your club. Also note that most people will not want to shake hands at a sweaty gym or messy art club, but that’s probably a given!
Where to find clubs to join
Of course, one of the easiest ways to find a club or group to join is by doing a quick search online. But that can either be overwhelming with choice, or somehow come up with nothing for your area.
To find a club or group near you, look for postings on local bulletin boards or community newspapers. In my region, we get a monthly newsletter outlining all the activities available for the month.
You can also try going to your local ward office or town hall. They often have pamphlets or information readily available, and may even be able to offer some activities in other languages.
For the social media route, take a look on Facebook for expat communities or even regional communities. They might be able to offer some more personal advice.
If you’re happy to carry out your activities without any English help, Aeon Culture Club has activities all around Japan at Aeon shopping malls.
Finally, ask your company if there are any related clubs you can join. These are usually more committed though, so be careful.
Joining a club or group in Japan is a great way to start branching out your social circle, and you might even pick up a new lifelong hobby along the way. Hopefully this article will help you make that first step.