The Bonenkai Season in Japan

Bonenkai season is upon us here in Japan.
I mentioned before that Bonenkai (忘年会) is the year-end gathering of co-workers and/or friends. If you look in a Japanese dictionary the word Bonenkai means a gathering at the end of the year to forget the troubles of the year. That’s kind of dramatic but I think it’s a way of patting ourselves on the back and saying Otsukaresama for getting through another year. And we do this by eating, drinking, and being merry together.
The tradition of Bonenkai dates back to as early as Kamakura (1185-1333) or Muromachi period (1336-1573), although back then it was more of a quiet gathering of poem readings. It’s during the Edo period (1603-1868) that Bonenkai became popular among the common folk as a time to drink and party together.   
Do you know the story of Chushingura (忠臣蔵)? (Ru tells the story beautifully here!) It’s one of my favorite kabuki plays and it a famous story of revenge based on a real story here in Japan.
You might wonder what that has to do with Bonenkai. Well, you know how the 47 ronin invaded the Kira fortress on December 14, 1702. It’s said that the reason they were able to invade and finish the job so swiftly is because everyone was still hungover from the Kira household Bonenkai the night before! Quite the story, right?
I never realized the history of Bonenkai in Japan was so long and even interesting. The tradition has been evolving over the years from large-scale company Bonenkais in the 70s to the private and lavish Bonenkais during the late 80s bubble economy years. Then the small-scale affair with close friends and coworkers after the economic bubble burst, which is kind of how it is now (although not as gloomy as the 90s, I’m sure). Good thing for me because I don’t think I could survive a company Bonenkai in the 70s (when sexual harassment was still not in our vocabulary). I like our small-scale ones with close friends and coworkers 😀
And in keeping with the season, I thought I’d introduce you to a really great traditional Japanese izakaya in Yoyogi. You have to make reservations because they are pretty popular but they have delicious food and even better umeshu! Yum yum!
Have a wonderful Bonenkai season everyone! x

1-34-5 Yoyogi
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Everyday: 6:00pm-11:00pm

14 thoughts on “The Bonenkai Season in Japan”

  1. I don't like the bonnenkai season because all of my students are too busy to study English! 😉

    There are several reasons I hate this season, but I love it at the same time. It is a real love-hate relationship for me. I love to party but hate seeing all the drunk people. Last night, I was on a packed (and delayed) train and a drunk guy looked like he was about to puke. His female co-worker would have been a slight buffer for me, but not enough. I got out soon enough though. I usually expect to see at least something bad… 😦

    The good side, I usually have a good time with friends in this season. Too many parties that I have to pass on because I can't party as hard as the salarymen. One of my old students had to party 4 times a week with clients for the entire month. He looked ragged at the end of the month.

    Lastly, that izakaya looks too posh for me. 😉 I do like them but I know a great cheap izakaya in Harajuku. Looks dirty but a bunch of my friends go there all the time. Cheap food and drinks, so you can't go wrong. ^^ If you want to check it out on tabelog, search for ゆかり.

    PS: Cute nihonshu cups. 😀


  2. I didn't know about that ronin tidbit! Heh. Bonenkai is more interesting than I ever thought!

    Dru, I don't like bonenkai season because our students faithfully arrive for their Saturday morning lessons despite the fact that they're so hungover that they're unteachable.

    Kaori, umeshu? Ooo. It does look a bit expensive, though, so I'll just go slumming in my beloved Asakusa. :p


  3. Ah, I completely understand your love/hate relationship with the bonenkai season. On the one hand, it's great to see everyone and have a good time, on the other hand, it can get very tiring. There are only oh-so-many taxi-gaeri (going home by taxi) that I can stand in a week.

    I think the salarymen who are in sales or marketing have to go to bonenkai with clients, which can be a drag. That does not sound fun.

    Regarding drunk people, you see them pretty much every night depending on the station so I don't think that really matters. I see people falling over all the time. Especially around Takadanobaba (in my area), which is famous as the puking hole for Waseda students ;D

    Really? Too posh? I guess I don't know what the real izakaya looks like yet. The men at work usually choose nicer places when us women are in the party, I guess. I'll have to try your ゆかり sometime! 😀


  4. Ru, I didn't know either but it tickled me to pieces when I found out! 😀

    You and Dru all know better izakayas! Why have I missed these places?


  5. Funny you mentioned drunk people falling over. I saw something like that today. Older man, probably late 50s or 60s who fell over and cut his head. Blood over at least 7 steps, and a lot of it. Almost stepped in it too… My fault though.

    I would never take a taxi home. I always make my last train if I have to work. If I don't, I'll just wait till morning. This year, no plans to do that.

    Posh izakaya are nice once in a while. Good for dates too. The food can be much better but when I just want to go out with friends for a good time and not care about food and drinks, the cheap local izakayas are best. Hope you tray Yukari. Not easy to find and in a quiet area of Harajuku. Lots of guys but a fun experience.


  6. Unteachable is fine on Sat mornings for me. I just don't want to teach anyways. 😉

    Expensive umeshu must be good… no? I paid a lot for good nihonshu the other week.


  7. Oh ouch. Head injuries always bleed like a river. The older ones have weaker knees so they tend to fall over from their heads. I've seen old men roll down the stairs at times. Crazy.

    I would never take a last train home! haha. That is the worst train to take, I'd rather walk home. Which I sometimes do anyways since I also get car sick on taxis. When I lived in Tokorozawa, my taxis would cost me over 10,000 yen but now that I live closer to work, it only costs me a few thousand 🙂

    I've never really had a nomikai in Harajuku before, now that I think about it. I guess everyone tends to stick to their work area. Mine are usually around Shinjuku. Let me know if you hear about any good places there, please! ;D


  8. Funny enough, again, my friend saw a guy roll off the escalator that same night.

    If I drank enough, last train doesn't phase me. 😉

    I used to drink around Shinjuku but my friends enjoyed the nicer places too. Last time I was drinking in Harajuku was after a game of Dodgebee in Yoyogi Park. Nothing like several beers and cheap food after sports. I do know another cheap place in Hiroo, but haven't been there in a long time and don't know the name…


  9. We've almost hit the halfway mark of December so there will be even more rolling around the stations and streets, I'm sure.

    I remember last trains were AWFUL when I would have to take them in college. I guess it's not so bad now that I only have a couple of stations from Shinjuku…but still would rather walk. You are a truly brave man for not fearing the last train ;D

    PS: What in the world is dodgebee? Is that like dodgeball?


  10. Oh, I know they are getting worse and worse. The first half is usually business clients, from what most of my students told me. Second half, co-workers. I guess it will get a lot worse from today… So not looking forward to tomorrow night.

    A couple stations from Shinjuku isn't bad. Depends on which Line. I was a couple from Shinjuku before. I would always walk home from Shinjuku as the last train usually went there. 30 minute walk. Not always the safest as I cut through Shinjuku Chuo Koen… …

    Last train is scary. You never know what bodily fluids will come out of people's mouths. I avoid it when possible, but if I'm drunk, I'm likely to be the one with fluids coming out… … O_O

    Dodgebee? It is dodgeball with a frisbee. My friend holds a tournament with friends twice a year. I try to go every time. It is a lot of fun.


  11. Ah, nigori yuzu (Google translate now has a writing function so I no longer have to “determine the radical, then count the remainding strokes, then turn a lot of pages.” Whoo hoo!)

    When I worked in Shinjuku I got to where I would walk home, too, instead of taking a taxi if I missed the last train. But it took about an hour and forty minutes.

    We went through a phase of going to an izakaya not so far from your Yoyogian, and speaking of “an” it was called Yūtopian. Nice name although the interior was less than Utopian it had a huge menu. It was just up the street from Yoyogian a couple streets from the Odakyu railroad crossing, off to the left coming from Yoyogi (or right if coming from Shinjuku). Map here. From the street view of your Yoyogian it doesn’t look like chauffeured limousine parking only.

    Oh, I think it is still there. A nice Cambodian restaurant near Yoyogi: Angkor Wat. Maybe you would like their dessert coconut ice cream (or not?). A click-and-drag interior view here. Other places? Capricciosa in the basement of the white-and-wavy Washington Hotel. Shiki was kind of nice. Kodawariya was an OK izakaya. Come to think of it the café Haiti, next door and down, down, was kind of interesting (also clickable). None of these would do as a romantic date like La Boheme. There must be a thousand equal or better places within a couple blocks.


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