As we get to the end of the year, I`m sure many of you will have been invited to year-end parties called Bonenkai. Also called a “Forget-the-Year” party, this is an occasion to look back on what has happened, to forget all the worries and stress of the year, and to start the new year fresh. By having everyone together, they can be fun, noisy and the atmosphere is more relaxed than normal. By allowing everyone to mingle, differences can be put aside and friendship renewed.
While food is available, companies normally try to arrange a location with a Nomihodai飲み放題 (All you can drink) plan. For a fixed price, the drinks will keep on coming for fixed period.
While this may sound like something recent, bonenkais actually originated in the 15th century, during the Muromachi period 室町時代,from 1336 to 1573. During this period, it was an event for people to
express thanks to others.During the Edo period 江戸時代, from 1603 to 1868, the bonenkai developed into something resembling what we are familiar with today.
Bonenkais serve as bonding activities for not just company employees but also groups of friends. In Japan, people are normally not used to speaking openly(Honne 本音) what`s really on their minds due to social constraints (Tatemae 建前). However, the bonenkai allows, under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol, for everyone to be more open and candid than they normally are. As such, you will see colleagues who are normally shy or quiet, ripping up the stage with karaoke, or telling loud and rude jokes, or even showing affection for one another. The rule of thumb here is that, because of the alcohol, anything said or done will be forgotten the next day.
Bonenkai parties can start as early as November but are most common in December, when everyone is winding down. As bonenkais can be done not just by companies but groups of friends, alumni etc., one can be expected to attend many of these parties during this period. Hence, the even higher number of drunken salarymen on the train at night!
If the company is hosting the bonenkai, it will take care of the costs but in smaller groups, the bill is split evenly among those in the party, regardless of how much was drunk or eaten.
The bonenkai always starts with the Kampai (Cheers). This is normally done by the most senior person there, once everyone has been served with a glass. A lot of times, there are silly drinking games, karaoke or other forms of entertainment by the people present there. The more junior are usually picked on to do this.
After the bonenkai is over, people may split up into different groups for more drinking and merriment, called a Nijikai 二次会(Second party) or a Sanjikai 三次会(Third party) depending on how strong the liver is!
Being Japan, it`s never complete without protocols. So here`s some advice for you:
– Never take a sip of your drink before the Kampai is made. It is considered very selfish and rude, so wait till everyone has a drink in their hand, and the senior person gives the toast. Then, it`s Kampai to
everyone around you and bottoms up!
– It is the Japanese custom to pour drinks for the others around you. Anyone with an empty glass will soon have it refilled by another person around them. If you see that, offer to pour them a drink and hold the bottle with both hands. If the offer is made to you, hold up your glass with both hands to receive it.
– If you have had enough drinking and do not wish for your glass to be refilled, and want to avoid having to refuse offers from others, leave some drink in the glass as an empty glass signals those around you that you need a refill.
– Despite everyone drinking themselves silly and behaving in ways you`d never thought you would see, remember that whatever happens during the bonenkai stays in the bonenkai. No one tells stories of what happened the night before. This respects the person or persons who may have drunk too much and behaved in ways totally out of character, and who may be regretting it!
If it`s a party amongst colleagues and friends, bring enough cash to pay your share of the bill. Don`t argue about whether you ate or drank less than another person. It`s bad form.
Overall, bonenkais are great events, where everyone gets to let their hair down and suffer little consequences for it. It is also a great way for you to get to know your Japanese colleagues better and develop better relations with them. So what if they made you go up on stage and sing a song while they clapped along. In their eyes, you are now one of them and part of the group, accepted by everyone.