Dec 9, 2013

December: Japan’s busiest month

“Tis’ the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la la la!!

While December sees Japan elaborately decorated for Christmas, December 25th still remains a working day in Japan! However, the Japanese are no less busy! They may not exactly be Christmas shopping, but rather occupied elsewhere, attending year ending parties, sending year ending gifts, cleaning their offices and homes, writing new year cards and many other things. All this is in preparation for the New Year which happens to be the most important time of the year for every Japanese person. I feel the Japanese new year is somewhat a belated thanksgiving, where the whole focus is on family and home.

BONENKAI: (Year-ending parties)

Literally bonenkai means “forget-the-year-party”, where office colleagues, friends or groups get together at Japanese pubs (Izakaya), restaurants, or even banquet halls in hotels to eat, drink, make merry and forget the unpleasant memories of the passing year!

Illust taken from the internet
 Most companies hold at least one bonenkai and people socializing with different groups attend consecutive parties throughout December. In most bonenkai’s, one gets to see otherwise calm, sober, people, let down their guards and show their wild sides, specially when they are very drunk. The party begins on a milder note, with the chief or head making a small speech, followed by another raising a toast. From then onwards, drinks and laughter flow alternately and the real party begins! Though a variety of food is served, it seems alcohol is what occupies the limelight!

Sometimes stage performances by professional artists or amateur performances by junior colleagues entertain one and all. Bingo games and Karaoke add further delight.
Though costumes are rare, some people dress up as Santa or wear Santa hats. Usually, the bonenkai ends for most around 10 pm, but it is often followed by a second or even a third party, which can last all through the night. For those who pass out drunk, are taken home by their friends or colleagues or picked up by family members. I think the Bonenkai is a great way the Japanese unwind and move on to the New Year with a fresh perspective.

O-SEIBO: (Year ending gifts)

It is a custom in Japan where people send a year ending gift of gratitude or appreciation (o-seibo) to people who have extended a special service or helped them in someway. Traditionally the custom began by making offerings to the graves of the deceased ancestors and is now given to teachers, company superiors, doctors or customers. A similar custom when done in mid-summer is called (o-chugen). The gifts are usually sent in the first two weeks of December, preferably by December 20th. The type of gift usually varies depending on the relationship with the recipient. Gifts range from detergents, coffee, tea, cooking oil, beer, canned food, ham, sausages, fruits, desserts, gift certificates, etc.

They are usually home delivered either by the department stores or personally. The price range averages between 3000 yen to 5000 yen. Though it is a very old, traditional custom, recently, many companies discourage such gifts and think it is rather an obligation or burden than an offering, and the custom is gradually fading among the new generation.

OSOJI: (General cleaning)

Similar to spring cleaning in the west which symbolizes a new start, the Japanese choose December as the month to clean up their houses, offices, schools to get rid of all the unwanted dust, de-clutter and begin the New Year in a clean environment.


Most Japanese clean out not only the inside and outside of their houses but almost everything that they use in their daily lives, such as cars, bikes, bicycles, machinery, etc. This custom is based on the belief that everything has a soul and needs periodic cleansing. Extensive cleaning is carried out in most homes, schools and offices before the year ending holidays begin from December 29th to January 3rd. This year, the annual bonus will come not only in cash but in holidays too, begining a day ahead on December 28th(saturday) and ending two days later on January 5th (sunday)! Which adds upto 9 days......Yippee!!!!

Putting things in their place and cleaning up the environment at the end of the year seems therapeutic for the Japanese. How about you?

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