Company Bonenkai and Shinnenkai

December 16, 2016
Working in Japan

It’s the end of the year, so you may have been getting invites to bonenkai parties by friends and coworkers. It’s not uncommon for foreigners in the west to have “end-of-the-year” or holiday parties hosted by their companies. In Japan, it’s a custom that dates back to the Meiji era, and remains a continued tradition among Japanese companies. The bonenkai is to celebrate the hard work and end of the year, and the shinnenkai is to kick off the start of the new year; the parties usually take place in December and January respectively. As we’ve seen in our previous nommunication post, getting together with coworkers to eat and drink is an important part of fitting into your team at work, perhaps even more so as a foreigner. Do you really need to go to these parties around the winter holidays? No, but you probably should…

company culture

We’ve talked about Japanese corporate culture being more traditional, and it’s something that’s really noticeable once you start working in a Japanese office. If you want to succeed as a foreigner in a Japanese company, it’s best to try and learn a bit about business customs, processes, and attend some of the after work parties to get to know your coworkers better – after all, it’s very much a group-based society, and the more allies you have within your organization, the easier it will be to excel at your job! Foreigners specifically can have issues trying to fit in with their teams because they are already seen as “outsiders,” but going into the situation with an open mind and desire to learn the culture will ensure a smooth transition for everyone. Our advice is to take advantage of invitations you might get, especially for the bonenkai and shinnenkai parties, because this is where you’ll get to meet your real coworkers.

a different side of people

Have you been in a business district in Tokyo (or any other Japanese city) on a weekday night? Surely you’ve noticed the amount of Japanese office workers out drinking together? It’s interesting to see some of the areas in Tokyo that are mainly offices turn into a ghost town during the weekend…

Anyways, if you “people watch” a bit, you may notice people are a lot more open and their demeanor looks far different than what you’ve seen on a crowded, morning rush-hour train. Generally, Japanese people will let their guard down with a few drinks in them, and it makes it easier to get to know a person while you’re out drinking. Often you’ll experience a different, more friendly side of Tokyo once the working hours are over and the bars are open! For this reason, the bonenkai and shinnenkai are especially fun to go to so you can witness your coworkers and bosses in a completely different light. Bonenkai parties can be notoriously rowdy, and people can get quite drunk without repercussions from the company – traditionally, what happens at the bonenkai, stays at the bonenkai. This is an opportunity for bureikou – “putting aside rank.” Employees, managers, and executives will all drink together, without worrying about their status within the company.

general party customs

Of course, there are some general rules to follow at parties like this, particularly if they are company sponsored. One of the Japanese customs of pouring drinks for others shows up in the party a lot. If you have an empty glass, it means you want a refill, and someone will be going around pouring drinks for people throughout the evening. Despite these events being declared bureikou, the people pouring the drinks are usually the lower-level employees, and it’s best to make sure your manager’s glass is always full. Little things like this make these parties exhausting for employees to attend, and it’s becoming more of a pain than a fun time among Japanese office workers. You’ll also have a series of speeches followed by a boisterous “kanpai!” Again, they aren’t mandatory, but if you’ve just started in a Japanese company and want to make a good impression, you might as well go and have a little fun. Events like this can provide a lot of insight to your company’s culture, and it’s a good chance to mingle, so don’t be afraid to let loose a bit and enjoy!

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