There’s so much to forget this year. And yet this year of all years the traditional year-end vehicle of forgetfulness, the office bonenkai (forget-the-year party), is just about impossible. To celebrate while viral infection rages is to court viral infection. What a shame. Or is it? Weekly Playboy (Dec 14) hears sighs of relief among the regrets.
The tradition was in decline even before COVID-19. Young employees in particular tend to regard it as a nuisance. They prefer to party with friends than with colleagues, with equals rather than with bosses. In a survey of 400 male company employees ranging in age from the 20s to the 50s, Playboy asks about the future of bonenkai and finds 45 percent saying no thanks, even after the pandemic is over. An additional 29.25 percent say they favor private parties over office ones.
Pity the poor bar, pub and restaurant operators who stand to lose a significant source of income. “As fall set in, things were slowly getting back to normal,” says the 33-year-old manager of a pub located in a Tokyo office building. “We had 10 reservations for parties of 30 or thereabouts. Then in November (a second wave hit and), the city was put on high alert. All the reservations got canceled. Reservations for new year parties are, as of now, zero.”
“I always hated them,” says a 30-year-old systems engineer. “It’s a busy time of year for us. So you’re at a bonenkai, drinking away, and suddenly there’s a call from a client: ‘Come quickly, I need you!’ But the boss is drunk and won’t let you leave. That’s how contracts get lost.”
“I can’t drink,” laments 29-year-old appliance maker employee. “At ordinary office drinking parties I drink non-alcohol beer, but at a bonenkai the boss won’t hear of it. ‘This,’ he cries, ‘is when we wash away all the mishaps of the year!’ So I’m forced to drink” – with what physiological consequences he does not reveal.
No, bonenkai are great, counters a 33-year-old cosmetic company staffer. “It’s a feeling of ‘Ah, the year’s work is done! The drinks go round, the alcohol takes effect, we all put our arms around each others’ shoulders and burst into song and say, ‘Next year we’ll do even better!’”
A 27-year-old man who works for a manufacturing company had been looking forward to this year’s bonenkai. “My department is all men,” he tells Playboy. “This was my chance to meet some of the women in other departments. I hear from older colleagues how they met their wives-to-be at bonenkai.” Well, maybe next year.
A 25-year-old trading company employee recalls a bonenkai experience he has no desire to relive. “There’s a tradition in our office that freshmen have to provide entertainment. My boss insisted I and another do a comedy routine. He loves comedy. He had us write a script and show it to him. He demanded changes, then more changes. All through December we rehearsed, with him and others watching.” It was all for nothing. The big night came, the performance was executed – and nobody laughed. “It was mortifying.” It could well sour a person’s view of bonenkai. Or – depending on his character – it might have heightened his anticipation of this year’s, of being an onlooker as others were put through their paces. Be that as it may, it won’t happen.
Playboy, with its largely male readership, says nothing of women’s feelings towards bonenkai. Older men, it says, are generally more favorably disposed toward them. They came of age when the tradition was taken for granted, and now their seniority gives them a certain ascendancy – or so one would think. Not necessarily, however. “Lately,” the magazine hears from a 51-year-old advertising executive, “everything you say to the younger staff is ‘harassment.’ You have to watch your every word. I’d rather just drink with people my own age.”© Japan Today