Posts Tagged ‘bonenkai’

Bonenkai season a blast for some, drag for others

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

‘Tis the season to get drunk and candid, at least with your work colleagues. The term bonenkai literally means “a meeting to forget the year,” which always sounded inauspicious to us, especially considering it’s used to describe a Japanese custom that is supposed to be festive. But bonenkai tend to be associated in people’s minds with the companies they work for, and there’s the rub.

Forget about it

Protocol dictates that the company bonenkai tantosha (person-in-charge) schedule the party as close to the end of the year as possible and, ideally, just before a holiday or the weekend; which means the peak days for bonenkai this year are Dec. 17 and Dec. 22, since the 23rd is a national holiday and the 24th is Christmas Eve, when a lot of people have plans of their own. Company bonenkai are, of course, paid for by the company, and though no one says so, all employees are expected, if not outright obligated, to show up, since it is considered a part of “company activities,” a chance to blow off steam and one of the few settings where an employee can be frank to his superiors and co-workers. “Communication” is supposedly an important element of bonenkai, though the obligatory aspect often just makes people more uncomfortable. According to a survey carried out by Kirin, a company that has a lot at stake in bonenkai, only 33.5 percent of the 6,000 people they questioned nationwide said they were “eager” to attend their companies’ bonenkai.

The survey also indicated that companies may be willing to spend more on bonenkai, which should please eating and drinking establishments, where 90 percent of companies hold their year-end parties. December is one of the most crucial business times of the year for the food and drink industry. Kirin found that companies planned to spend on average ¥4,828 per person this year, a ¥45 increase over last year’s budget after three consecutive years of declines.

However, the survey also pointed out that many people, mostly those under the age of 40, are now having “private” bonenkai at their homes for friends and colleagues outside of work. Interestingly, 30 percent of the women surveyed said they hosted such parties while only 19 percent of men said the same, thus pointing out that men obviously associate bonenkai with work and not their private social lives. Another aspect that may alarm the restaurant industry is that, according to a report on NHK the other night, more companies are opting to hold their parties on their own premises. They use large conference rooms and hire catering services and even outside entertainers, thus saving money (no “table charges,” for one thing) and allowing revelers to revel even longer, since restaurants and izakaya usually limit the time for each party. The main drawback that we could see in this option was the atmosphere that usually comes with a conference room: Those overhead fluorescent lights are a guaranteed buzz kill.

A streetcar named beer

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Tis the season to forget about the year with a mess of alcohol, so Kirin Holdings conducted a survey of salarymen to find out just how much they were willing to pay for a single bonenkai (end-of-year party). The limit, they found, was ¥4,690, which is less than what Kirin found last year, which was less than the year before, etc. Obviously, salarymen’s wallets are getting tighter, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to forsake their traditional December puke-fests.

The suds express

The suds express

Thus it was no surprise to learn that the Arakawa-sen’s “Toshi-wasure Beer-go” (Forget-the-year Beer Special) was booked up solid right away. The Arakawa-sen is the last of Tokyo’s streetcar lines, which runs from Minowa-bashi in Arakawa Ward to Waseda in Shinjuku Ward.

From Dec. 8 to 12 they are running a special “beer car” once a day at 7 p.m. (twice on the 12th). For ¥3,000 you get all the canned beer you can drink plus snacks. Reservations are limited to 20 persons, which is why there are no more spaces left, and the ride itself only goes as far as Otsuka Station, but it lasts two hours, presumably because it sits in a few stations to let the regular cars pass it by. Also, it should be noted that the cars have no toilets, so you have to wait until it stops at the Arakawa garage, where there’s a bathroom break.

Toei, which runs the streetcar (as well as the Toei subway line and city bus system), says that it set up the Biiru-go to help people forget not only the year but also “the recession.” In a way, it makes perfect sense for the line, colloquially called toden, to offer such a service. It’s probably the cheapest mode of transportation in Tokyo — ¥160 anywhere. Also, it’s the oldest. The municipal lines started in 1878 at horse-drawn carts that changed to light rails by the turn of the 19th century. In their heyday, streetcars were everywhere in Tokyo, but except for the Arakawa line, they had all shut down by 1972. So in addition to getting a buzz on, you can enjoy a piece of old time Tokyo — at old time Tokyo prices. But you’ll have to wait until next year.

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