The New Year’s Party
I rue the Japanese New Year’s Party (“bonenkai”) tradition. I have attended/been forced to attend such parties periodically in the past, and so I know what I’m on about.
The polite fictions of social harmony and the character of happiness are disagreeable because they are a calculated falsehood.
The world is already too full of people I despise but have to pretend to like just to get along.
Humanity is nurtured in anonymity and excess publicity steals it away.
The main purpose of a bonenkai is to forge good human relations (“ningen kankei”) by socializing in a pleasant atmosphere on a special occasion. The appearance of good human relations is very important in Japanese culture. But I find little pleasure in it - first because I dislike mandatory participation in anything (a feeling traceable to the mandatory “Participaction” physical education program introduced in Canadian schools in the 1970s) and, second, because the polite fictions of social harmony and the character of happiness are disagreeable - disagreeable on moral grounds because they are a calculated falsehood and disagreeable on social grounds because they are - well, antisocial. Japanese society is just as rent with discontent as any other society, but they dread public discord immensely and so appearances are more important here , and participation in group events with your co-workers - especially events awash in alcohol, like year-end parties or spring time cherry blossom viewing parties - are deemed to have a certain, important cosmetic value. But I think that mixing with one’s co-workers during private time is a Big Mistake. The world is already too full of people we despise but have to pretend to like just to get along. Associating with people from work - the nearest of the despised hoard - in my off time is a grave error in judgment. Not only my judgment, but their judgment, too. I work largely independently, not dependent on an employer for the most important things like visa sponsorship or apartment or employment guarantor. I only rely on employers for money, which, while important, is only a little thing comparatively speaking. So I have to decide to what extent I can do as I please while still remaining employed. Fortunately, as an outsider of whom little is expected, I have enjoyed quite a lot of freedom in that respect for many years. But not always.
I like to stay home, not go out. Any normal person, when not at work, ought to be and ought to want to be at home, with the family, in one’s den. Leaving home is a burden and a danger. Labor begins the moment one leaves one’s door. And remember, in the Western tradition, labor is a curse not a blessing. Consequently, we work to live, rather than the reverse, which is how many Asians see it. I prefer the Western view of the matter, because I regard it as a better mechanism for forging and protecting privacy upon which I place great store. It is in privacy that we realize our humanity. To be fully human requires not just maximum leeway to err, but also maximum privacy. Humanity is nurtured in anonymity and excess publicity steals it away, which explains why publicity-seekers
Publicity-seekers and celebrity-worshipers are a little less than properly human.
and celebrity-worshipers in a confessional culture like America’s are, somehow, a little less than properly human. A completely public life is not a proper human life at all. So home is where I prefer to be. I don’t want to go out with friends. I don’t want to go to clubs or bars or restaurants. Since I do not drink and I have little spare time as it is anyway, how could I? And what possible pleasure would meet me there? I don’t want to travel. I don’t go in for a lot of hobbies and extra-curricular activities. I work hard and conscientiously, and so I think I deserve/have earned a right to spend my free time (“kibarashi”) as I please. My co-workers have no claim to, and ought not to have any claim to my free time. Isn’t it enough that we have to live daily in a world that is not really our proper home? The virtue of free time activities lies largely in their voluntarism. But that is not the case with a Japanese bonenkai, which is basically a requirement of work stuffed forcefully behind a mask of what is called a Good Time. Bah!
Of course, saying this publicly puts me in a bad light. And remember, since appearances are paramount in Japan it might be said to be to my advantage to guts it out and endure. In my early years in JapanI did exactly that, suffering these group events. Then I resisted them. Then I contorted myself and my life and my speech to evade them. Then I simply ignored them, not caring at all if I seemed rude or strange. And then for many years I was free. Not giving a damn what others think is a very liberating, moral choice. But occasions still arise when pressure is applied to participate in orgies or binge drinking in the name of group harmony (“wa”) and good human relations. What the Japanese do not realize is that after-hours socializing and events like the year end party actually damage (if not exterminate) any semblance of good human relations.
But I could be wrong.