Thursday, December 19, 2013

Working in Japan: Bonenkai

It's December. It's the end of the year. And in Japan, that means it's bonenkai season.
Bonenkai are gatherings/parties held at the end of the year. Most companies hold them and friends, people in the same hobby group, etc have them, too. Basically, they are a way to have fun and drink before taking off for the long New Year's holiday.

All bonenkai are held after work. Apparently, back in the U.S., holiday parties are often held *gasp* during work hours! I'd love to have a bonenkai during work hours.
I have also heard that for the holiday parties that are held after work in the U.S., that workers can invite partners, spouses, kids...dogs? That ain't happening here in Japan. Bonenkai are strictly for the members of that group; the people in the office, the members of the tennis club, or whatever. No family. None!

They typically start with assigned seating. (Yes, you heard me.) After being seated, you order your drink and listen to a speech. The speech can be anything from two people giving a brief "nice job, guys," to a parade of boring ass old men (always old men) talking shit about helping the company or how they are retiring and hurry the fuck up and kampai mutherfucker!

let's party.

Unless the kanji (person in charge of organizing the venue, etc) has freedom, good tastes and knows what people like, most likely you'll be in some place that serves small bits of fucking shit. "Oh, foie gras? Uni (sea urchin)? Raw horse? Yes, I totally skipped lunch to eat this cold stuff and have my coworkers stare at me in wonder whilst I choke it down...gimme a beer."

At some point during the dinner (always dinner), there will be some game. Again, the fun factor of the game depends on the kanji and the people you work with. If everyone's cool, then even a lame game can be pretty fun. Funner if you win a prize!

By this time, you're about an hour and a half in, and everyone's pretty sloshed. Some staff grab large, glass bottles of beer and walk around giving aisatsu (greetings) to their coworkers and managers. Other people can FINALLY run away from their shit seating assignment and talk to their real friends. Voices rise. Someone spills wine. All is good.

Another speech. Another kampai, and two hours have passed and the bonenkai is over.

Now, this is where the fun starts. There's always an after party. Always. Some places have enough staff for several groups to form. Within these groups will be the people that always go with the CEO/Lead manager/whatever person holds power. These people are, almost always, men. Their ni-ji-kai (after parties) are held in snack bars or strip clubs, where the oldest man pays. This is also where strong bonds are formed, and you get someone who's gonna watch your back if you watch theirs.

Women'll go to karaoke or some cafe for coffee. 
So, that's about it. I will have my bonenkai on the 30th. I don't expect much.

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