Long ago, in an 英会話 far away, your correspondent was a terrified, socially awkward foreigner in 日吉. I was plopped into a classroom with virtually no training in the middle of October 2003. After a few fits and starts, I was able to grasp the gist of the our school’s methodology: keep the students entertained and help them learn something. There were amazing days and quite a few challenging ones. In this context, when December rolled around I was introduced to the wonderful Japanese custom of the Bonenkai.
Japan has many New Year customs which this blog will highlight with several posts in the coming weeks. Do not worry, their relevance to sumo will be apparent. In this post, I will highlight the Bonenkai. A literal translation of the kanji is “forget the year gathering”. Unlike the many customs, like setsubun, which are family oriented, the Bonenkai is different because it is oriented toward business and friends. This is more similar to “the company Christmas party” in the West. Many businesses will be closed for the first week of the new year so these parties are generally held before that break.
So, for a business person in Japan, December can be a super busy month. Often there will be a Bonenkai with your section or division, then there will be another one with clients, others with friends. This party is generally an alcohol fueled gathering at a local izakaya where colleagues and friends will celebrate the end of the last year. At an izakaya there are no photocopiers, though, so our grand tradition of getting drunk and photocopying our butts is sorely missed. Instead, many izakaya have a karaoke machine which lend themselves to my horrible renditions of 90s grunge classics.
While the name may demonstrate the reason for the party, these gatherings are not dismal affairs. Rather than dwelling on the challenges of the past year, colleagues and friends focus on appreciation for their support and look forward to the new year.
So, with December upon us, I urge Tachiai readers to go out and have your own Bonenkai where we can put this horrible 2017 behind us. Yes, we were blessed with a new Yokozuna and Ozeki only to quickly lose both to the disabled list. We quickly lost two ozeki and our electrifying youngster, Ura, went down to injury. Adding in the fallout from the fight in Tottori, we can see the reasons for our Bonenkai. If you have your own Bonenkai, take pictures and if you share them on Twitter, I’ll retweet and like them.
Rather than dwell on these past challenges, we raise a glass (with a few “Banzai!”) to Hakuho’s 40th, the resurgence of Uncle Sumo (Aminishiki), the continued growth of young talents from Asanoyama to Enho to Wakaichiro, and the comebacks of Endo and Okinoumi. Who will make the next Ozeki run? Takakeisho, Onosho, Tamawashi, Hokutofuji, or other?