Do Japanese Students Really Go On Huge School Trips?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jake asks:

I have watched a lot of school anime over the years and I have always found school trips to be a bit peculiar. Most of the time they are beach trips, which is pretty normal fare. But more often than not it's to some exotic expensive local that is multiple days long. Compared to when I was in grade school, which was many years ago, school trips where relatively tame by comparison. Usually to big national park, a museum or art gallery, possibly going to the state or nations capital was biggest. I remembered we used to have fundraising events since some of the bigger trips ran several hundred dollars. Yet I don't think I have ever seen any fundraising or concern of who's going to foot the bill in any anime series. Even in show like Toradora! where the main lead character is very clearly poor, but the issue of funding for the big class trip never comes up. Do these amazing expensive trips actually happen?

The class trip, or shuugaku ryokou, is indeed a real thing. It's often the most anticipated event of a student's career, a lauded time to make memories with your friends. It's a ritual for the graduating class of that school (i.e. the final year of elementary, middle and high schools), and while not an official part of the government curriculum, it's something that schools work very hard on. It's part of an educational philosophy in Japan known as "gyakkuzukuri", or "creating childhood," that's meant to foster strong emotional bonds with their class. In this regard, it's not unlike other well-known Japanese school events like sports day and the school festival. Even class meetings and cleaning duty are intended towards this purpose of building unity and emotional bonds with the overall unit.

Most schools do not send their kids to places that are all that big of a deal for someone living in Japan. For kids in Tokyo, many of them end up going to Kyoto or Okinawa, and for kids outside of Tokyo, the big city is the usual destination. Days are filled with organized group tours of popular tourist spots, and nights are spent at an inexpensive Japanese style accommodation, with large groups sharing floor space and futons for sleeping and shared bathrooms. It's nowhere near as glamorous as anime would have you believe. I found a few blogs from exchange students who were quite underwhelmed by the experience.

In recent years, some schools have been planning trips beyond Japan's borders, usually to other major cities in Asia, like Taipei or Seoul. (There was famously a case a couple of years ago where a teacher lost one of the student's passports -- meaning he couldn't go on the trip -- causing a big social media outcry.) Beach trips do not seem to be all that common -- methinks that's simply an excuse for anime and manga to show their characters wearing swimsuits. I can't find any information about how these events are paid for, though -- as the whole point seems to be that everyone is included, I'm assuming that Japanese schools budget towards them every year, but I don't really know. Perhaps someone in the forums can fill us in about that.

The change of scenery and time spent doing things other than sitting at a desk and taking notes means that all the usual drama that goes on with school kids gets amped up a few notches. And so the event has become yet another dramatic arrow in the quiver of any writer doing a youth story. It's a natural place for romantic tensions to finally snap, for someone's anger to come to a head, and for any character's arc to finally crest. There are only so many things that normal school kids get to do, and this rite of passage has basically taken on a similar level of importance in pop culture as the American high school prom.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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