bonenkai shabu shabu


On December 15th I met up with my colleagues in the Osaka Daigaku teacher’s union for a bonenkai (忘年会) party. “Bonenkai” translates as something like “forget the year,” and pretty much every organization has a bonenkai party toward the end of the year. There’s something incredibly cathartic about about this type of “putting the past into the past” type of celebration — I suppose it serves an equally useful purpose for individuals and groups alike. I especially like the bonenkai/shinnenkai double structure — one party to forget the year, and then a second party to welcome the new year. I suppose that bonenkai takes special precedence as a drinking party since most people in Japan return to their family homes to celebrate the New Year. New Year’s Eve here is much more closely aligned with what Americans might think of as the (non-commercialized) feeling of returning home for the winter holidays. While everything does shut down for a couple of days, the emphasis is on trips to the local shrine rather than trips to the “local” (as my colleague Richard likes to call one’s hometown pub).

The bonenkai party was a bit of a surprise to me on two counts. First of all, I thought that since it was a union party there would be at least somewhat of union business about it, but this turns out not to have been the case. The other suprise was that unlike all the other faculty parties, which were distinctly faculty only, this party was a family party and faculty members came with their spouses and children. Also, there were several members of the office staff present which always makes the atmosphere less formal and more amiable. So — kids, shabu shabu (apparently a name intended to evoke the movement of ‘washing’ the thin slices of beef in boiling water), lots to drink, and plenty of toasts. Watanabe-sensei performed card tricks for the office staff, I was introduced to Semba-sensei’s wife, Murakami-sensei’s young son Phillip remembered me from a a party at their house where I let him repeatedly push me to the ground to peals of laughter, and Saito-sensei and Yamada-sensei (who organized the party) were able to claim a great success.

I like bonenkai’s emphasis on forgetting. It’s important to remember, of course, but not to let the past live inside us. We should also let the past unclutch from us and fall away, and let new life enter in, develop, and make its home in us for awhile. Too much remembering clutters up the place and makes us still museums with no room to move around in or stretch our legs.

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