Crash Course: Bonenkai

Ah, it’s that time of year again. Time to eat, drink, be merry, and spend entirely too much money doing so. 🙂 No, not Christmas. It’s bonenkai season!

Bonenkai are “end of the year” parties, mostly held by companies, schools, or civic organizations (known as moai) but there’s no reason why friends can’t have a bonenkai as well. The actual kanji characters for the word bonenkai translate to “forget year gathering”. For many, this is an opportunity to imbibe a significant amount of liquor in hopes of putting out to pasture the memories of the outgoing year.

Bonenkai range from simple to more complicated, pricey affairs. A basic bonenkai usually takes place at a restaurant and either involves a pre-set menu or takes advantage of the restaurant’s tabehodai (all-you-can-eat) or nomihodai (all-you-can-drink) specials. For certain groups, like schools or companies, a special hall or hotel space may be rented out and the gathering could involve speeches, games and end-of-year reviews.

The cost of bonenkai season can add up quickly. Let’s say you get invited to a bonenkai with your friends where the payment required from all participants is ¥3000. Now imagine you’ve subsequently been invited to bonenkais at your school, your neighborhood organization, your kids’ PTA, a different group of friends … etc etc. It can leave a sizable hole in your wallet!

If you’re living in Japan and you’ve been invited to a bonenkai, I suggest arranging your transportation in advance. Japan already has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking and driving and the police on even higher alert in the month of December due to all the parties. Take the train, a cab or avail yourself of one of the designated driver services that will actually come fetch both you and your car and bring you back home. Whatever you do, be safe and have fun!

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