No 'bonenkai' this year ... and many employees won't miss them


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

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I doubt this will stop many people from getting together individually and still holding them. While there will most likely be less than usual parties, I'm pretty sure there are going to still be many held as well as new years parties as well. I personally predict a spike in cases in February, although I'm sure the j gov will continue to fudge the numbers.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Our regular bonenkai parties have been cancelled this year. I’m sure some idiot organisations will still insist on them going ahead, with compulsory attendance, of course.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Great, so the isakayas won't be overcrowded this year.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

We cancelled ours, but in my opinion a few parties a year are good for the team. Not overdoing it, bonennkai, hanami, and some welcome/farewell parties. None of which happened this year...

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Not a fan. I like to get drunk and relax, not get drunk but still have to remain on my toes around geriatric Japanese bosses.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

The company one is cancelled this year. They're usually a crazy party, really good fun for us.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Mine’s cancelled. One happy thing in the misery of being stuck in Japan for Christmas and New Year.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Haven't heard anything from my workplace, but I doubt they will hold one. Almost every other "event" has been cancelled, so probably the bonenkai as well. Attendance has never been mandatory, with only half or so showing up, so even if they do hold one this year, it will probably be even lower. I will not be going.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

51-year-old advertising executive, “everything you say to the younger staff is ‘harassment.’

No, everything you Have Been Saying to the younger staff Has Always Been ‘harassment.’ Now, life has caught up to your sexist ways and you dunna like it, eh?

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Not a fan. I like to get drunk and relax, not get drunk but still have to remain on my toes around geriatric Japanese bosses

I totally agree, absolute worst.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I thought nomikai sounded awful. This sounds worse.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This year nobody will forget, whether parties take place or not. So better attend one of your probably last parties, while you still can, as the coming time won’t be better and a zoom online party with all participants at the ECMO isn’t so much entertaining, that’s for sure.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I always enjoyed getting good and drunk at the expense of my company.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Not Japanese and I never gave a bleep about what the boss thought anyway so I always made sure I had enough libation and enjoyed myself and left when the good drinks and/or nice young ladies were gone. I also usually throw my own bonenkai with a special guest list made up of only people I like so all the stuffed shirts would never be there anyhow.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

A year from now, back to normal.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well, I for one, have always appreciated the free beer and food.  And then there is the inevitable Karaoke machine wheeled out.  As the honorary foreigner I am urged to sing.  I promise I will but hold off until the Ojisan's are well drunk.  And then I sing a Beatles song.  I find that "All My Loving" does the trick.   Always get's them singing and clapping along.  Particularly if you add some action to the performance.  And come the New Year they all send or give me  photo's of my "performance".

5 ( +5 / -0 )

just sing "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" once,

Do you beatbox the drum solo?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Friend’s company cancelled theirs and sent all employees a gift book instead. They seemed to like that better

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Bonenkai, shinnenkai, sayonara and good riddance.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

End of alcohol for the masses, I know one group of people who will be very happy as it fits right in with their agenda

0 ( +0 / -0 )

you hate having to sing karaoke, just sing "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" once, and you'll be off the hook forever. You don't even have to go the full 17 minutes

Whenever we wanted to clear a party we'd play an Enya song

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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