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  • Writer's pictureKomaba Times

School Spirit in Japan - a Taboo Subject?


Prospective students are interested in various factors when choosing a university: university rankings, facilities, the quality and diversity of the courses offered. For me, among these, was also student life. While considering which universities I would apply for, I already imagined myself proudly wearing a sweatshirt with a huge university logo printed on it.

In Japan, however, the school spirit appears to be less prominent than in some other western institutions. For instance, without entering the campus of the University of Tokyo (hereafter ‘Todai’, as the Japanese call it) through its main gate, you might not realise that you are treading the grounds of a university considered best in Japan and amongst the top in the world. On campus, there are no flags, no logos, and no sign of students wearing any kind of Todai merchandise. This could be due to the narrow range of products offered by the university. Whilst American colleges have entire shops crammed with hats, pins, umbrellas, rings, and even chairs, the memorabilia offered by Todai is much smaller, and can barely be seen in the CO-OP shop at Komaba.

The small merchandise section in Komaba campus. Photo by author.

During the first days of school I saw one of my classmates wearing a Harvard sweatshirt. When asked why he chose the well-known burgundy product instead of a Todai one, he mentioned the prestige, as well as the fact that his pullover was specially designed by a famous American apparel company. In America, branding has become such a large spread phenomenon, that famous companies develop very specific lines of clothing just for a limited market. Moreover, even though The University of Tokyo is well known over the world, the school spirit did not have a contribution to its prestige, he concluded.

A point that is often omitted is that most universities which spend large sums of money on advertising are privately funded. Todai is a public school, and investing public money in its image is likely to provoke public discontent. Another argument, more subtle, regards the Japanese mentality. By showing off that you study at the best institution in the country, the others might perceive you as ostentatiously making a claim of superiority.

Is the situation to be changed in the near future? Most certainly, as The University of Tokyo undergoes structural changes meant to attract more international students. I hope that in a few years, the blue and yellow ginkgo leaves logo will speak for itself when seen.

Originally posted on Dec. 31, 2014

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