Bonenkai and Shinnenkai: Everything You Need to Know About Japan’s Year-End and Year-Start Parties

Cheers to a great year!

Japan has many unique work customs. One of them is the tradition of drinking after work called
nomikai. This is usually done by the Japanese not only to de-stress but also to get to know their co-workers better. 

Invitations for
nomikai normally increase during the end or beginning of the year. This is the period when workers thank the people they worked with for the past year or celebrate the start of the year together in business. Nomikais held during this period are called bonenkai for year-end parties and shinnenkai for year-start parties.

What are Bonenkai and Shinnenkai?

literally means “forget the year party.” It is a nomikai held at the end of the year, usually around December. Meanwhile, shinnenkai literally means “new year party.” It is a nomikai held after the new year, around January. Depending on each company’s policy, some companies or groups choose to hold just one or the other.

and shinnenkai are celebrated in various scales. It can either be held privately, with some close colleagues, division-wide, department-wide, company-wide, or even with business partners from other companies. It is not strange to be invited to several bonenkai and shinnenkai. Most workers in Japan would have their months filled with these kinds of events. 

Rookies of the company are the ones tasked to become the
kanji or organizer of the event. They have to make sure that the event runs smoothly, food and drinks are available for all participants, and that empty glasses must always be filled with drinks. Aside from this, they might also be asked to do a show to entertain people as well. 

What is the meaning behind the Bonenkai and Shinnenkai?

Although they might seem to be just drinking parties, as with any other
nomikai, the two events actually have a deeper meaning. Bonenkais are held to forget all difficulties and show gratitude for all the opportunities in the past year.  This is done so that workers are ready to face the next year with a new heart. 

shinnenkais are held to pray for the company’s success in the coming year. Many companies use this opportunity to announce new policies or businesses that would be implemented in the next fiscal year. This is one of the reasons why participating in these kinds of events, especially those held by one’s company, is important too, even if you’re not a drinker. 


and shinnenkai can also be the term for parties with friends. In this case, a bonenkai is sometimes mixed with the Christmas party. 


Since both parties are held at the beginning and end of the year, workers will want to greet others with “Happy New Year.” In Japan, there are two phrases that you can use to wish someone a happy new year. If it is at the end of the year, you say “
Yoi otoshi wo omukae kudasai(I wish you have a happy new year) in a polite way and “Yoi otoshi wo” in a casual way. On the other hand, if it is during the start of the year, you say “Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu” (Happy new year) in a polite way and “Akemashite omedetou” in a casual way.

 (3 December 2019)

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