Clubs are everything in Japan. Your clubs define your friends, identity, interests and dictate how you spend your time. The club culture both at the university and in the community is something I've never seen anywhere else. The loyalty, commitment and energy given to clubs by their members is unparalleled. It's not that common to spontaneously hang out with one's friends but rather attend a pre-planned and organized club event.
Yesterday, Sean and I went hiking with our community hiking club. The event was planned weeks in advance and was very organized and included such amenities as route maps and fresh fruit for everyone all for the participation fee of about three dollars. It's very popular to go hiking in Japan and it felt like everyone else in the entire city decided to descend upon the mountains as the trains and trails were crowded with gear-clad trekkers.
We were lucky and ended up with a beautiful day and incredible colors of the leaves. As we climbed higher and higher the more the leaves changed. Before the hike we had obligatory group stretching and then individual greetings and introductions to the new members. It took a few hours to get to the top where we had a group photo and lunch. When the clouds started rolling in we began to make our way down and on the way happened to see a fox!
After a long and tiring hike down we walked to the bus stop where half of the group split to go to onsen (warm hot springs) and the other half opted to go back home. Although a warm community bath would have felt divine, Sean and I were ravenous and because the journey back to the city was about two hours, we hopped on a train dreaming about a warm bowl of ramen at our home station.
That morning we had gotten up at 5:40 to make it to the base in time and arrived home exhausted. We were asleep by 9:30pm. Although I'm not sure I would subscribe so strongly to the club culture in my own country, as a foreigner in Japan it's a fantastic opportunity to meet new people, see different places and try new things in an organized and friendly fashion. I hope that wherever you are you're able to enjoy the beautiful colors of nature as well!