Hanging Out on Bōnenkai and Shinnenkai

New Year, shogatsu in Japanese, is the most significant holiday of the year. Preparations begin days beforehand. Most business establishments close shop from the 1st to the 3rd of January to commemorate New Year in Japan, and many Japanese spend time together with their families.

Bōnenkai.  | Hajime NAKANO

In Japan, each year is viewed as separate and discrete, with the New Year as a chance for a fresh start. Bōnenkai and shinnenkai parties are prime examples that show us the true meaning of ending the old year with a blast and starting the New Year with a bang!

Bōnenkai (忘年会 literally ” ‘forget the year’ gathering”) is a Japanese drinking party that is held at the end of the year among close friends or groups of co-workers. Its main purpose is to forget the troubles and woes of the past year and to look forward to starting fresh for the new year by consuming quite a lot of alcohol and getting drunk. There is no specific day to celebrate bōnenkai, but it usually happens every December. Bōnenkai celebrations are often sponsored by a business office or a company for their employees.

Bōnenkai is not considered as part of the shogatsu celebration that commemorates the start of the year. Bōnenkai tradition can be traced back to the Muromachi period in the 15th century when it was more of a gathering to give thanks for the year’s blessings. The parties were previously known as noukai (great achievement gathering). The celebrations only came to be known as bōnenkai during the 18th century. It is a time to let one’s hair down, or bureiko, and not worry about the boss for a change.


Shinnenkai (新年会, literally “new year gathering”) is the Japanese tradition of welcoming the New Year by yet again drinking alcohol. It is also usually celebrated amongst the company of co-workers and friends in January.

Shinnenkai. | Steve Nagata

Shinnenkai is also not a traditional part of the shogatsu celebrations. Shinnenkai is very similar to Bōnenkai in that it began during the same time period and is also sponsored by the employer. Shinnenkai celebrations are marked with wishing each other good fortune and luck for the New Year.

The main difference between the two celebrations is that in shinnenkai, some of the shogatsu traditions are carried over, such as breaking open a barrel of sake with a wooden hammer, drinking together and making mochi. Japanese are known to be more reserved in expressing feelings to other people. Celebrating shinnenkai is considered a way of showing public displays of gratitude.

Have a fun year end bōnenkai and happy shinnenkai New Year!