Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Roger Agustin

Musings Of A Sarariman
Forget the year but tomorrow is another day…

January-February 2014

Writing for a publication is a tough job (in fact tougher than my real job), since I personally don’t consider myself a good writer. Months before the deadline, I always have tons of ideas to write, but when I finally sit down for the final composition, everything goes blank in my head and I have to start basically from zero. As nervous as it can be, it is an excitement itself because I can start with fresher ideas and all of them will come within an hour. Even in my college days where I had to write my own articles and the editorials, almost all of them were written in last minute bursts! There were no word processors yet and no computers to save, mostly notes and scribbles, so the whole article itself would have to be composed and completed within my head before I even wrote them. And here I am still, amidst the busyness of the year end commotion, looking at a blank screen doing my last minute write up!

2013 is almost over but with the whole world as busy as ever with so many political strife and catastrophic events happening here and there, I have not heard anything yet of what’s to come in 2014. They said it’s going to be better. Come what may, for a sarariman, there is nothing more exciting than the end of the year. Exciting means so much work to be done before the long 年末年始 (Nen- matsu-Nenshi: year end and new year) holidays but at the same time celebrate the year-long work with 忘年会(Bonenkai), especially after receiving the year end bonus (It doesn’t matter whether it’s less than last year’s. It’s still worth thanking for to get one. That’s the sarariman spirit.). Bonenkai is normally translated as end-of-the year party but directly translated it means Forget-the-Year party. It doesn’t really mean you have to forget everything about the year, it simply means forgetting the bad things, celebrate the successes, and move on looking forward to a brighter year. The real bonenkai parties are done with small groups, usually with people who are either in the same team or who are working on the same project. Although not really a rule, one important part of the bonenkai is the 無礼講 (Bureikou). From its name, anybody is allowed (I think) to express or vent out anything setting aside office formalities, seniority or the office hierarchy, but of course to a certain extent without being so rude or disrespectful to the bosses. Out of curiosity, I once asked my peers if ‘accidentally’ hitting my feisty boss was ok as being drunk could be a good excuse. Well, hmmm, maybe, if you’re really drunk and if he doesn’t remember it the next day, you know, ah maybe you should not….and there goes the usual ambiguity in a Japanese answers to a tricky question.

And oh, by the way, the bonenkai doesn’t end up in just one round (一次会 Ichijikai). The ichijikai is just a starter, drink some, enjoy the food and the casual conversation. Parties in Japan are well timed to no more than 2 hours since there are people waiting in line reserved for the next round. So we all have to leave the place but not go home yet because there’s another round called 二次会 (Nijikai: Second Round) You can actually attempt to call it a day at the first round but it is not recommended for the sake of company.  By experience, I believe the nijikai is where the real bonenkai starts.

Everybody’s a bit drunk, sobriety almost gone, one can be his true self shifting from the ‘tatemae’ to the ‘honne’ side. While the first round is done at places where a lot of noise could be tolerated, the nijikai teams tend to choose a quieter place where they can have a more serious conversation about what they really feel at work. The 三次会 (Sanjikai: third round) is actually an option, limited to people who can still go home late, or who wants or can still drink more. The sanjikai is typically paid by the boss so he has to go if everybody wants to have the third round. The toughest thing with these bonenkais is if it happens to be in the middle of the week, you still have to go to work the next day. Tomorrow is another day they say. So getting it planned on a Friday is a hard test for the organizer.

One particular thing worth noting is the meticulous planning involved in such bonenkai parties. A 幹事‘kanji’ is assigned from the team who usually is the either the newcomer or the youngest member. He would be the party organizer who will make all the reservations and all other arrangements that may include negotiating the best price for the menu. His ability to efficiently organize the party and to make everybody happy becomes the barometer for his ability to cope up and manage his own work and his relationship with his peers. Good or bad, bonenkai is still part of the sarariman’s company life after all.

Finally, for all bonenkai goers: if you drink, don’t drive; if you drive, don’t drink. Follow the first one, it’s easier. Just a few minutes ago before I finish writing this up, I just got a mail for an invitation to a 新年会 (Shin-nenkai: New Year party), and I have not even gone to any of those bonenkais yet!

Here is my best wishes for a prosperous 2014 to everybody. Dewa minna-san, akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!

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