With the year winding down, workers across Japan are looking forward having a few days off at the end of December/start of January, since New Year’s is the most important holiday in Japan. At the same time, though, many of those same workers are dreading their company’s annual bonenkai.
Literally translating as “forget the year party,” bonenkai are end-of-the-year celebrations, generally held in the second half of December. Like most company functions in Japan, they’re ostensibly supposed to be an opportunity for coworkers to kick back and have fun, spending some time together outside the strict, businesslike atmosphere of the office, and in the process improve channels of communication and boost solidarity. In reality, though, many people find them about as enjoyable as Japan’s loathed company trips. A bad bonenkai is little more than tensely drinking with your bosses, nodding and murmuring fake interest and understanding while waiting for the unfun festivities to wrap up so you can go home.
Of course, you could sidestep all that by simply not going, but in team-oriented Japan, that’s easier said than done. If you’re going to skip a bonenkai, you need a good excuse. Luckily, weekly news magazine Spa has put together a list of five candidates, based on interviews with people who successfully used them to get out of their workplace’s year-end party.
Let’s take a look at them, plus examine their strengths and weaknesses.
1. “I’ve been invited to my friend’s after-wedding party that day.”
Because bonenkai are usually held on weeknights, after work, a key element here is that you need to say it’s your friend’s after-party you’ve been invited to, not the wedding ceremony or reception. Most weddings in Japan are held on weekends, but in recent years there’s been a trend towards smaller ceremonies and receptions attended only by immediate or close family. Then, at a later date, the newlyweds will have an after-party with just their friends, often renting out a restaurant for the celebration. It’s not unusual to have an after-party on a weeknight, and making the fib extra-plausible is the fact that people in Japan often keep their circles of work and private acquaintances separate, so it won’t be too shocking that you’ve never mentioned your just-married friend to anyone in the office before.
2. “My doctor says I can’t drink anymore, because of my uric acid level, cholesterol, etc.
“Forget the year parties” are called that because you’re supposed to wipe the slate clean of any lingering sadness or stress that’s built up over the last 12 months, thereby giving yourself a fresh start in the new year. You could argue, though, that the bigger reason the parties are called bonenkai is that some people pound enough booze at them to cause memory loss.
As with most social functions in Japan, the booze flows freely at a bonenkai. Of course, if you say you can’t participate because of health reasons, someone might suggest you just drink soft drinks, so Spa recommends supplementing your story by saying “If I see everyone else drinking, I’ll be tempted to drink too.”
The downside, of course, is that once you say that, if you somehow get roped into going anyway, you’ll be spending the whole time stone sober, which will make it all the more difficult to put up with your boss’ drunken jokes and pontifications.
3. “My spouse’s parents are coming over to our place and spending the night that day.”
There are a few things that make this one kind of tricky to pull off. First, obviously, you have to be married, and second, your spouse’s parents have to be living somewhere far enough away that it would make sense for them to be staying with you instead of just hopping on the train, going home, and sleeping in their own beds after their visit.
However, if you’re a foreigner working in Japan, you could easily switch this to “My parents are coming from overseas and staying at my place.” There’s a risk here too, though, since Japanese people tend to be extremely interested in what travelers from overseas think of their country, and you’re likely to later get asked where you took your mom and dad, what they thought of Japanese food, and a whole host of other questions you might need to spin an entire web of lies to answer.
4. “I have a business dinner with Mr X from Company Y that night.”
Another high-level technique, this one requires you to have a job in which you have out-of-the-office meetings with people from other organizations. Also, since you’re missing the bonenkai for an ostensibly work-related reason, you’ll need to produce something to justify your absence, even if it’s just a vague list-like report of the topics you supposedly discussed (and, of course, came to no significant agreements regarding).
The deepest potential pitfall here, though, is that you’ll probably need someone to corroborate your story, since making up an entirely fictitious company and person makes it easy to get caught. The interviewee who did manage to skip a bonenkai for this reason was able to find a counterpart in another company who didn’t want to go to his office bonenkai either, and by telling their respective bosses that they were meeting up with each other for a business dinner, they were both able to get out of their parties.
5. “It’s my spouse’s birthday, and if I don’t take them out to celebrate, they’ll get really upset.”
This one has a lot going for it. Most Japanese people don’t discuss their love lives in that much detail with their coworkers, which works to your advantage in two ways: there’s a good chance no one in the office knows when your spouse’s birthday actually is, and since most people won’t want to pry, you’ll probably get far fewer questions than you would with the “my parents are in town” ploy.
However, something that separates this tactic from all the others is that this one is permanent. Wedding after-parties are a one-time thing. Family visits and business dinners don’t occur in precise, recurring patterns. Heck, you can even get your excessive drinking down to a level where your alcohol intake isn’t damaging your health anymore. But barring a divorce and remarriage, your spouse’s birthday is going to be on the exact same day every year.
That means that if you play this card, you’ll need to remember the falsified date for as long as you remain with that company, and make sure never to contradict it in any subsequent conversations with coworkers. However, the upside is that if you can do that, you’ve got a permanent excuse to get out of any future company parties that happen to take place on that day.
The downside, though, is that you’ll no longer be able to use your spouse’s actual date of birth as an excuse, which means when their real birthday rolls around, you might be stuck having to attend some other after-hours office function, making the part about your spouse being angry at you entirely honest.
Source: Livedoor News/Spa via Jin
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