Back when I worked in Nou-machi, because I worked for the Board of Education and at two different junior high schools, I got to forget the year three times.
I’ve mention before how Japanese parties tend to be formal and timed to the minute. They also tend to be rather boring. However, this time of year, even though clocks are still involved, the parties get a little crazier.
One of my favorite names for a party is Bonenkai. In Japanese, the literal reading of the letters is “Forget Year Party” and that pretty much describes what happens.
Instead of the usual two hours, the Forget Year Party stretches to three. There’s more food and more drink and lots of silly, drunken games. I’ve played drunken Twister; drunken rock-paper-scissors; and guess which poor sap got the big chunk of wasabi in his sushi. (This game involves lying and pretending and guessing who’s not really lying. Long story.) I’ve also heard stories of a naked principal climbing a beam and pretending to be a cicada. (I’m never invited to those kinds of parties, though, so I’ve never actually seen anything like that.) I have, however, seen men dance around while dressed as ballerinas. (I used to have a hat that proved it. Now I think I might have imagined the hat. Long story.)
The other thing that happens at the Forget Year Party is that once people start roaming around and talking in pairs, all their complaints come out. I remember one of my English teachers berating the principal about life in general and all the extra BS the teachers were expected to do that had nothing to do with teaching. The principal just took the berating and nodded in agreement.
At another Forget Year Party I was seated next to Ms. Yamazaki (not her real name) who taught home economics or something like that and who was mostly famous for her skill at dismissing the male teachers’ interest in her. (Let’s just say she had tremendous “tracts of land”.) She also had a dismissive “are you serious?” look that was part smile, party wince and part hiss and was scary even if you saw it from across the room. (And yes, she would get hit on in the office. More on that some day.)
We got along well but by then I was dating She Who Must Be Obeyed and had been scared away by that “Are you serious?” look so didn’t consider trying anything. Later, as people started moving around and mingling, the principal came up to me, poured me a beer and got very serious. We then had this conversation:
Him–I see you are sitting next to Ms. Yamazaki.
Me–Yes I am.
At that point I felt as if I’d let down the entire school.
After the main party, there’s almost always a second party (also done on the clock). For this party whiskey and karaoke are involved. In my first year in Japan, at the Board of Education after party, my boss dragged me up on stage to sing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” I didn’t actually know the words or the tune, but I did my best.
Later, I’d learn that my boss didn’t remember singing with me. But that’s sort of the point of the Forget Year Party: You vent your frustrations and drown them in alcohol. Then you forget them and move on. (Or at least you pretend you do.)