In December you will see a lot of drunken men and women staggering in town. Everyone is on their way from 'bonenkai,' a big drinking party.
Bonenkai is held only in the end of the year, because 'bonen' means 'to forget the year' and we are supposed to drink in order to forget all the bitter memories of the ending year. Bonenkai is a drinking party not among friends but with co-workers. In my school, for example, several guys are designated as 'kanji.' Kanji are people who are totally in charge of the party. They must prepare everything. They decide the place(usually a big restaurant or hotel), ask everyone whether they will join or not, ask for a bus to take them to the place (we will be fined $3000 for drink driving). Once the party has begun, everyone asks kanji to order beer, sake, or soft drink. Kanji have to count how many people want beer, how many sake, and how many orange juice...
In our party, the principal and the vice principal sit in front. Other teachers' seats are decided at random by lot. If your principal is a disgusting guy(fortunately mine is not), no one wants the seat next to him (or her, very rarely). Before you give cheers and start drinking and eating, usually a long speech is made by your principal. And at the end of his speech, he will say "Drink as much as you like. Talk as freely as you like. This party is a 'bureiko.'" 'Bureiko' means that you don't have to keep polite in this party. Japanese people are required to be polite to their elders or bosses, but today you are told that you can be frank or sometimes even rude... Hey, don't believe what your boss has said! Even if he looks very drunken and keeps smiling when you complain something about your job, he will remember every word from you, and will never forget it. If you believed in the word 'bureiko' and performed a naked dance just in front of him, pouring beer on to his head, you would certainly be fired the next day.
I don't like bonenkai. Everyone starts to talk to me with alcoholic breath, "Matsumo, you are a bit too permissive to your students..." or "I think we had better change our school curriculum..." What I hate is they say this sort of things only when they are drunken. Why don't they speak out when they are in school, not at a drinking party. At school they would say, "Matsumo, I respect your way of treating your students," or they would never complain about the curriculum. You may wonder why this happens. It is because Japanese have 'hon-ne' on one hand, and 'tate-mae' on the other. 'Hon-ne' is what you really think in your mind. It is not presented easily on usual occasions. Japanese try to hide their hon-ne as much as they can, because being too frank is considered somewhat rude. So usually they protect themselves with 'tate-mae,' their public position on the surface. Japanese don't think of this as a lie, but they believe it a necessary strategy to make their social relations smooth. But of course you will be tired from hiding your hon-ne all the time, so the power of alcohol lets you free to give it out. 'Bureiko' actually means that you can state your hon-ne to your heart's content.