12 Days of Christmas in Japan #7: drink, drink, and be merry
See all posts in this series via the '12days' tag.
Japan's take on the office Christmas party is the 'bounenkai' or 'bonenkai' (忘年会) - the end-of-year party. It's usually much bigger than an average Friday night work party, which is known as an 'enkai' (宴会).
At an enkai, you drink.
A lot. Unless you're pregnant, taking antibiotics, or a designated driver.
Japanese workplaces need social lubricant more than most. So much so that it's "compulsory". As in, we're not forcing you to go but expect to be shunned if you don't.
Not everyone likes the idea of orchestrated group boozing with coworkers.
The 'bou' kanji in 'bounenkai' is the one for 'forget'. By December, nobody wants to think about how many hours they put in this year. So they forget, with copious amounts of booze. It's the enkai to end all enkais, which is why it happens in the final month of the year.
You can't start drinking until the first 'kanpai!' is yelled. But you probably won't stop, if other people have their way. See, you don't pour your own drinks. You pour for others and they do it for you. The number of refills you get is entirely in someone else's hands.
So you get drunk. They get drunk. Everyone gets drunk.
It's a mess. A secretive, never-talked-about mess. The Japanese office party is like Las Vegas - what happens there stays there. No exceptions.
No calling in sick the next morning to nurse a hangover. No whispering over the coffee machine about how trashed your boss was. No sharing photos of the receptionist snogging the IT tech.
December is bounenkai season, and it's the worst month for encountering drunk people. Or, if you're at an enkai, OTHER drunk people.
Japan lets you drink alcohol in the street. And in the park, and on the train, and outside the gym. You have to be 20+ to drink, which is older than some other countries, but once you're legal age you can go nuts.
Food's usually involved at a bounenkai, and you'll need it. The real party plan is the nomihoudai (飲み放題) - all-you-can-drink.
It's super cheap - it has to be, because the company might not be paying for you to go.
It's so much easier to get drunk guilt-free if they do pay. Less again if they decide the best cost-cutting measure it to hold it at the office...
If your party's stuck in a rut, there's always the 'nijikai' - 二次会 - the afterparty. And then as many increasingly smaller after-afterparties your liver can take.
Not everyone moves on to the nijikai, you can limit it to people you actually don't mind drinking with. But by then, you'll probably be too drunk to remember or care any more. And that's bounenkai in a nutshell.