what is bounenkai, really?

In one of my recent posts, I mentioned how the bounenkai (忘年会) is the Japanese equivalent of thanksgiving party to celebrate the year that was.

I may be a bit wrong on this however. The last kanji, 会 (read as “kai”), means party. The second kanji, 年 (read as “nen”, means year. The first kanji, 忘 (read as “bou”) means forget. Hence, translation of bounenkai is really to have a party to forget the year that was.

And it comes off a bit negative, doesn’t it? Why indeed focus on the negative and forget? Why not on the positive and remember? My boss and I were talking about the nuance of bounenkai earlier, just before we ourselves were about to attend our department’s bounenkai. He said that it’s just part of the Japanese culture. And probably he meant that it’s just part of the Japanese culture to focus on the negative stuff that happened in the year and specifically make a point or an event – a party in this case – to forget about it. Sort of like officially get rid of it. After going through an anger-provoking meeting earlier in the day, I thought that if the goal of bounenkai is as we supposed, then it was just so timely.

But as I realise now, we may be wrong. The bounenkai can really be literally that: to forget the year that was. Full stop. Not just the negative but the whole year, positive or otherwise. Forget the year that was and start anew with the coming new year. If the old year has been a bad one for you, forget about it and exert tremendous effort to make the new year a great one. If the old year has been a great one for you forget about it, lest you enter the new year full of pride and be less attentive and so eventually rob yourself from the chance of working hard to make the new year another great one. And I’d say, I’d stick with this one. Yes of course we should remember and celebrate the blessings given us with the year that was. But it is imperative that we be mindful as well not to be too confident and hence let down our guard and not make good effort anymore in the coming year.

Your thoughts? 🙂

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