Bonenkai Season Survival Guide
As Bonenkai season draws close those who have been in Japan around December know the Joys and Dangers of a Japanese Bonenkai. Those who have not yet experienced a Bonenkai probably think they are your average holiday parties ( such as Western Christmas Parties, Chinese 年夜飯 or Korean 送年会 and Taiwanese 尾牙) but beware Bonenkai are a different breed of party and though they occupy the same realm of drunken revelry as in other countries, one should definitely approach the Japanese iteration of this party with both extreme Caution and Reckless Abandon.
The Japanese end of year party the Bonenkai has a long history that stretches back to the Muromachi period of Japan where the elite would splash out with huge banquets at the end of the year. However it was in the Edo period that the "everyman" thought to himself "I too want to drink so hard that I forget who I am, where I'm from, and what I did for the last year" and the Bonenkai became the annual year end drink to death institution it is today. This is probably a part of the reason why Bonenkai translates roughly to "Forget The Year Party" which means forgetting all the hard times one had within the year before. For the religious don't worry there's no religious significance to the event so feel free to imbibe and to help you here are some tips to get through the season:
1. Count the amount of work, school and social circles you belong to;Why? Because this directly corresponds to the amount of parties you will be invited to attend. The Bonenkai is primarily a drinking party and the Japanese do not at all shun but whole heartedly embrace alcohol. So, any chance people get to plan a drinking event will be utilised. Dependent on how active you are you might be invited to only 2 but I have a friend who due to the nature of his job tends to have three a week that he must go to every week in December.
2. Choose your Bonenkai wisely;If you are incredibly active and you are as lucky ( or as unlucky) as my before mentioned friend, you will have more Bonenkai than it is physically possible to attend. So, as to not end up in a state of perpetual alcohol poisoning, choose and refuse till you have a moderate amount of events to attend. After all, you do still have to be a functioning part of society. Also, unless its a business bonennkai, expect to pay between 3 to 6,000 per event. So, if you're not careful, they can quickly add up in cost and this does not include the cost of the inevitable Nijikai (afterparty).
3. It's FunDrink, Drink and Drink! Eat, Eat and Eat more! There might be karaoke, drinking games, present exchanges and so on; these are all a part of what makes the Bonenkai fun. The reason is in Japan many relations can be very strict and ritualised. You always have to be careful of being proper. At a Bonenkai, due to the alcohol you can forget most of these rules. I'm not saying this is your opportunity to smack your boss in the face, but what I am saying is you can relax a little and talk about things you couldn't bring up at the school or workplace. You can let your hair down so to speak. These social activities are just as important for group building in Japan as daily sober activities. So enjoy them and remember most of what is discussed will be kept silent if not forgotten the next day.
4. Remember to get up for work the next dayMost Bonenkai are held on Friday's and Saturdays but its not uncommon to have Bonenekai during the week. So enjoy the party but don't forget work and family. If you party all night and wake up at 11:00 am in the countryside far from home after falling asleep on the first train home (around 4:30am), Good luck explaining this to your boss. So drink in moderation and try to maintain a healthy bonenkai - work - life balance.
5. Bonenkai is best left to the prosVery few Japanese will throw their own bonenkai at their home or workplace. Why? Because it's a lot of work, as you want to include everyone and make sure they have a good time. Furthermore, the mayhem that could result could be rather hard to control destroying office property and ruining relations with neighbours. So its best to leave it to the experts and hold your bonenekai at an izakaya (Japanese style drinking restaurant). I hold a yearly bonenkai with friends and I would never want those drunkards in my home. However, Izakaya's are used to this type of event. So choose a trusted one. They will have set menus with all-you-can drink to make sure the party doesn't stop and they are experienced with dealing with drunks and actually expect people to get drunk. Also, don't forget to use our website to find the perfect restaurant and remember to book early as most places get reserved very fast.
So have fun, and be safe, and hopefully these tips will help you make it through the Bonenekai season alive because in January comes Shinenekai Season (New Year Parties) and the whole fun crazy thing starts again.