Bonenkai (literally: “forget the year party”) are the most important parties of the year. As the name implies, the purpose of bonenkai is to forget the troubles of the past year and look forward to success in the next.
Who Throws BonenkaiEvery company in Japan holds at least one bonenkai. In many cases, bonenkai happen at the company, department and team level.
It's also common for friends to hold bonenkai. New Years is the most important Japanese holiday. It's usually spent with close family. Bonenkai is a way to celebrate the New Year (in advance) with friends.
Many people are invited to dozens of parties in December.
WhereBonenkai vary greatly from company to company. Large companies may rent a ballroom in an upscale hotel.
Most small companies book an izakaya. As a result, Tokyo's izakaya are hopelessly booked up this time of year.
Companies that are on a budget have their bonenkai on their premises.
What to ExpectCompany bonenkai tend to be structured. There are usually a few speeches. Games are also common.
Santa SuitsBonenkai aren't Christmas parties. Bonenkai traditions go back hundreds of years before most people in Japan had ever heard of Christmas. In Japan, Christmas is a work day.
Nevertheless, a Christmas theme tends to emerge at many bonenkai. For example, people might wear santa suits.
Second PartyAfter the bonenkai people usually have a 2nd party. At many companies, the bonenkai has a reputation as the most wild party of the year.