Japan's year-end drinking parties make post-pandemic comeback

More than three-quarters of employees keen to join popular year-end corporate parties

Japan's year-end drinking parties make post-pandemic comeback

In a sign of return to normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic, 79% of employees in Japan said they have plans to participate in year-end drinking parties with their colleagues, according to reports.

The Mainichi reported this week a poll among 4,147 people by Tokyo-based operator of web-based scheduler Choseisan, which found that 53% "want to or plan to participate" in year-end gatherings.

Another 26.5% admitted they "somewhat want to participate" in these events.

Japan's year-end party culture

In Japan, year-end drinking parties among colleagues called "bōnenkai" is well-known to be a part of Japanese corporate culture.

The event's name literally translates to "forget the year gathering" and aims to get employees to forget and troubles of the past year and look forward to the new year.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, which shuttered bars and limited close contact among huge groups of people, limited such events over the years.

Japan only began easing restrictions in 2021 - but partygoers remained reluctant to return to year-end drinking amid the pandemic, according to an Asahi Shimbun report.

Even last year, when there were no virus-related restrictions in place, The Asahi Shimbun reported that demand for year-end drinking parties were "still sluggish."

A survey from the Tokyo Shoko Research last year also found that 61.4% of organisations have no plans to organise bōnenkai or "shinnenkai" (New Year's) parties because of COVID-19 concerns.

Post-pandemic comeback

It is only this year that reluctance towards participation in these events appear to be wavering - with the Japanese government classifying COVID-19 as a Class 5, with no more unified basic infection control measures required.

According to The Mainichi report, majority of the respondents (65.4%) said they want have parties with 10 or more participants this year.

Some 32% said they want between 10 and 19 participants for these gatherings, while 20.7% said they want more than 30 people to join.

Among the respondents who want to have more than 10 bōnenkai participants, 37.3% said they want this number because this was about the same number of joiners pre-pandemic. Another 29.2% said this is because COVID-19 has been downgraded to Class 5 under the infectious disease control law.

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