Dec 20, 2012

Just Forget About It (Year-End Party Culture in Japan)

Bonenkai Wraps Up Old Year, Welcomes New One in Japan 

Written by: Misa Kajikawa

After shots of sake under gorgeous cherry blossom trees in the Spring, chilling out with beer on the beach in the Summer, and trying the latest Beaujolais Nouveau in the Fall, people in Japan still long for one of the biggest party events of the year: Bonenkai

Literally meaning “forget the year party,” Bonenkai is rooted in the spirit of wrapping up the old year (tough periods and all) so that one may have a good memory of the year and be ready to welcome and celebrate a holy new year.

Most often, Bonenkai is a dinner event which some (especially those in the urban areas of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya) enjoy as nonstop parties Monday - Friday. Because public transit is so good in these areas, there’s no need to worry about the effects of “the bottle”. It’s easy to pick up the last train of the night or just wait for the first train in the morning from late open bars, karaoke or internet cafes.  It’s so popular, in fact, that restaurants, bistros and pubs are almost fully booked all December long.

Bonenkai Konpai! (Photo: Misa Kajikawa)
In business, people have year-end parties with their small group or the entire company – sometimes including clients and partners. These events often include overviews of the company’s growth, awards for valuable employees, and very frank discussions to share friendships not just business. It is a kind of the wrap-up before entering the most important holiday in Japan, Oshogatsu (the New Year). 

The Bonenkai atmosphere can vary from casual standing to dining “Tatami Room style” where there’s privacy for fun developments such as someone showing up in a batman costume or guests screaming for the raffle prizes. The menu often includes winter specialties such as hot pots or oysters. Some go with wine, others with Virgin Margaritas, but the most important thing is that everyone is having a great time so that they forget the pain of their daily work for sure.

Bonenkai Oysters (Photo: Misa Kajikawa)
Our local panel in Japan, Research Panel, did a quick poll with our Japan panelists, asking them how much they budget for Bonenkai. Most (76%) think less than $60 (5,000JPY) is ideal since there are so many parties for weeks! There are a few gender gaps, however, with men tending to budget more while women, likely to think they eat and drink less, allocating less.

And, finally, in case you’re concerned about the consequences of the potential drinking, worry not!  “Anti-Hangover Supplements” abound. 

So grab your colleagues or friends, prepare a great meal (with lots of beverages!), and let the things that happened in 2012 go out with a smile. Now, finally, you are ready for the coming 2013.

RPA wishes all a happy and prosperous New Year!

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