Add another season to the list of seasons in Japan! In today’s blog post, I’m going to introduce you to what I like to call “bonenkai season.”
Japanese Bonenkai season
Bonenkai translates in English to “forget the year party.” It’s when groups of coworkers, school clubs, and friends get together for an end of the year part. They’ll go out to a restaurant or bar, and it usually involves a lot of drinking. The idea behind a forget-the-year-party is to forget any bad times or difficulties from the past year and look forward to a better and more prosperous new year. It’s a time to let loose, relax, and break down some of the company hierarchy for a night. There’s no specified day for a bonenkai party, but they usually happen in December. Which is why I call this time of the year bonenkai season.
I usually start to notice bonenkai season around the second weekend of December, and then getting busier and busier over the next few weeks. It’s easy to tell what is going on if you walk through a busy train station because it’s even busier than usual. There are a few busy train stations that I pass through often, and around this time I’ll start to see more groups of people meeting, getting together, waiting, getting on the train, or going to a restaurant. If it’s later in the night, you’ll also see a lot of drunk people being loud, stumbling around, and sometimes puking. Bonenkai season is a pretty crazy time of the year. Did you know, Japanese people drink turmeric to prevent hangovers?
My experience with bonenkais
I’ve been to a few of my own bonenkais over the last five years. When I was working as a English teacher, I went to a few with the other teachers at my schools. I felt a bit uncomfortable though and didn’t have a fun time. My Japanese was a bit rusty, and I didn’t make many close relationships with the other teachers. If my company hadn’t paid for me to go, I wouldn’t have gone. The food was great though!
Since starting grad school a couple years ago, I’ve been to one or two with my professors and seminar members. Those are easier for me, since they’re all friends and really cool people.
And I usually go with my Taekwondo mates every year. Though we have to do a short speech, and I get nervous to give a speech in Japanese about how I’m going to improve my Taekwondo in the next year. BTW, I have a black belt test coming up in January.
Bonenkai season is not cheap
When people go out for a bonenkai, it’s usually at a place with a course meal and all-you-can-drink for two to three hours. The price might be around 4000-6000 per person, at least in my experience. So if you have two or more bonenkais to go to, you see it can add up pretty quickly. To top it off, some people go to nijikai, which means “second drinking party.” It’s exactly what it sounds like – after your time is up at the first restaurant, some people go to a second restaurant, bar, or karaoke for more drinking and more spending money. I’ve only gone to nijikai once with my Taekwondo mates, and it was more low-key.
There’s also sometimes a third party. If you do find yourself at a second or third party, you’ll notice everyone starting to head to the station around 11:30 or 12:00 to catch the train before it stops running.
And then if bonenkai season wasn’t enough for ya, a few weeks later there’s shinnenkai, or “new year party” to think about.
This one is not such a huge deal, and not everybody does this. It could be anytime in January or even into April for a shinnenkai. This party doesn’t have the same let-loose , carefree attitude as the bonenkai – it’s stiffer and more formal.
Bonenkais are alright, though I usually prefer to stay at home in my comfy jim-jams, eating snacks in front of my computer. Or having a nabe party all by myself. I would throw a #foreveralone meme in here right about now, except I’m not alone. You know how it is. 😉
What do you do for an end of the year party? Let me know in the comment section. And have fun and be safe this bonenkai season!
This is Japan is regular blog series where I write something about my life in Japan. It might be something about Japanese culture, a story about living in Japan, something random and funny/weird, or something else that doesn’t fit with the rest of my blog. If you like to read This is Japan, subscribe to join my email newsletter community. And leave a comment below below and let me know your thoughts on this post!