In Japan, fall is often the season of preparation for the school cultural festival (or bunkasai). These are often held around Culture Day, a national holiday that takes place on November 3rd. Classes and clubs will all have different projects, showing what they have been learning or particular skills. Popular activities include themed cafés, haunted houses, and performances. Parents, prospective students, and the public often come to the school to enjoy the exhibitions on display. Preparations are often lengthy, and so can begin soon after students return from the summer break. This will vary between schools and areas, of course, but with the school year starting in spring, fall is an excellent time to start. The freshmen have settled in, but entrance exams are far enough away that the seniors are not too worried about studying yet. The perfect time to feel some school pride and show off your skills in a school festival.
Below are some of the many examples of school cultural festivals in anime.
In Toradora, preparations begin at the school gate on the first day of the second semester as students return from the summer break. The boys in the class conspire to vote together to do a class cosplay cafe so they can all see the girls they like dressed in cute outfits, but it goes awry, with the class performing a very successful pro-wrestling show instead.
The school holds a beauty pageant as part of the festival, a tradition many schools have. Toradora also touches on how hard the Student Council members have to work during the cultural festival. The festival arc can be found in episodes 11,12, and 13.
In the Pet Girl of Sakurasou’s cultural festival arc (episodes 9-12) we really get to see how hard the students work, completing both their class activities and a very ambitious project with the students from Sakurasou.
Among the residents are a number of talented artists, a script writer, a budding voice artist and a computer programmer, so they decide to put on an interactive computer game experience. With logistical challenges, a lot of drawing and game design challenges, the shear work put it is phenomenal.
Each class in the school will generally put on a different activity for the cultural festival. Classes in high schools in Japan don’t tend to mix much, even within the same grade (at least for lessons).
They also mostly stay in their classroom and the teachers for each lesson come to them. As our main characters are in different classes, we see a range of class activities at the cultural festival in You and Me. We see a haunted house, a cross-dressing cosplay cafe, and a performance of Cinderella in episode 10 of the first season.
In School Days we see some real highs and lows at the cultural festival. In episode 8, there are some hilarious scenes with the different classes trying to bring customers to their themed cafes. But we also see a lot of bullying and some blatant infidelity.
In episode 9, we see the end of the festival with a bonfire and a folk dance with a tradition that couples who dance together are then an established item. There are plenty of examples in anime of school-specific traditions like this.
Komori and her friends are in middle school, so we see a high school cultural festival from a slightly different perspective. They attend the festival to check out the high school and decide if they wish to apply there.
The vast majority of high schools are fee-paying in Japan and go out of their way to advertise to potential students. The cultural festival is one way to do this. Sadly this is covered in the manga but not the anime.
In the second season of Silver Spoon we are shown a very different example of a school cultural festival, as the anime focuses on an agricultural high school. The equestrian club sets up a Banba racing course, but we also see elements we recognize, like the class project is a small pork soup stall.
But the main storyline covers Hachken’s exhaustion from working too hard, and then he misses much of the festival. The festival can be found in episodes 5 and 6.