What Are Japanese Student Councils REALLY Like?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jason asks:

As an avid anime watcher and a high school student in the US, I've noticed that most student governments in anime are organized in the same way and do the same things, however they differ drastically compared to those here in the States. Obviously, Japan's high schools are different than those in the US, and it is likely its the same for student governments. Still, I find it slightly unbelievable as to how much power student governments in anime have over every day life. So are high school anime fudging the facts a little bit, or are student governments actually depicted realistically in anime?

I can assure you that no actual Japanese student council has the ability to revolutionize the world.

When I was in school, the student council never seemed to come up all that much. Sure, we had elections (which were little more than popularity contests) that were kind of a big deal, but after that they were pretty easy to ignore. All they seemed to do was contribute to the morning announcements, and occasionally put on an event that I never went to. Like prom, for example. But then again I spent most of high school hating everyone and getting the hell out of there as fast as I possibly could, so I'm probably not the best person to judge.

But in any event, Japanese school life tends to be much more hierarchical and organized, with students being put in charge of far more of how things operate than in American schools. Where most American high schools have a different assembly of students in each class, Japanese schools have one set of kids to a homeroom, and there they stay most of the day as each subject's teachers file in and out. That class spends all day together, and has its own elected representative, which reports to the student council for the school.

The student council runs bigger events that do indeed take over the school -- things you've likely seen in anime, like the cultural festival, or field day. They are often called upon to organize their fellow students on class trips. In many schools they also have oversight over after school clubs -- which are an almost mandatory part of school life. Since those clubs are often the subject of much drama, the student council is seen by some as wielding a huge amount of power. They also have limited say in funding and application of rules to the student body.

Student councils were added to Japanese schools in the post-war era, as a way to train kids for a life of democracy. Teachers are encouraged to let the kids govern themselves (to a point), in order to train them to operate a civil society of their own one day. How cooperative the kids are depends a lot on the mood of the school, and how ambitious the kids within it are. Obviously a student body that respects hard work and ambition will pay more attention to its student council, while kids at worse schools will treat it like an unpleasant chore.

Most depictions of student councils that I've seen in anime have veered hard towards the fantastical. Many have God-like (or at least principal-like) powers, access to untold riches and resources, and are often charged with turning their school into a host club. I can assure you all of that is pure fantasy.

But just like in American schools, the kids who get elected to office are usually the ones with a reputation for being orderly and over-achieving. There can be a significant workload to being in student council, so oftentimes being a part of it really limits what else you can do with your spare time. There are definitely times where unpopular kids get railroaded into the job, because kids can be gigantic jerks.

There are a few depictions I can think of in anime that seem to be more accurate pictures of student councils. The elementary school council in Only Yesterday famously debates how rules against running are to be enforced. In His and Her Circumstances, Arima blackmails Yukino into doing his student council work early on in the show.

What other more realistic depictions of student councils have you seen in anime and manga? Let us know in the comments.

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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