Many Japanese children may dream of becoming a pro soccer player or baseball player, but a new study finds that dream may change for many once they get to junior high school.
An NHK survey that looked at 29 types of sports teams across Japan found that membership in sports clubs, or bukatsu in Japanese, is at an all-time low in 37 prefectures. The national average is also at its lowest, with 59.6 percent of students in sports-related bukatsu.
Some of the lowest membership rates were seen in Nara Prefecture, at just 50.7 percent, Nagano Prefecture, at 51 percent, and Fukuoka Prefecture, at 54.2 percent. But even prefectures with high membership rates of over 70 percent, like Iwate Prefecture, are still at an all-time low in comparison to previous years.
There are a number of reasons this could be occurring, experts say. A major one could be the declining birthrate. Fewer students means fewer team members. This can lead to not meeting the minimum team size requirement to play in competitions or even dissolving teams that can’t gather enough members to practice.
Another contributing factor could be a growing number of schools switching from compulsory to optional membership as per national student demand. Until recent years, many schools required all students to participate in some sort of bukatsu, which are typically held for several hours after school at least several times a week, including weekends for some.
Netizens also chimed in with their theories and reactions:
“Joining some teams can cost a lot of money, and some coaches can overdo it.”
“That means less overtime for some teachers!”
“The future generation isn’t looking too promising.”
“Maybe they don’t want to play sports while wearing masks.”
“They should make it easier and more fun by reducing bukatsu to just a couple of times a week for an hour each.”
Professor Ryo Uchida of Nagoya Graduate University, an expert in bukatsu, suggested revising the bukatsu system altogether when it comes to sports. “I expect this trend to continue, but I also think it’s good that the sports teams accused of going overboard with their practices are being revised.”
In an age where everything about Japanese schools is changing, like loosening gendered uniform rules, this can be considered yet another sign of the times for many.
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