In Japanese, the month of December is also known as Shiwasu.
This somewhat ancient-sounding name has a few speculative origins to it, and one of it explains that it is the month where the monks are busy and hectic chanting sutras at various places. To people of other jobs and occupations, Shiwasu is probably also a busy month nonetheless, singing songs and making merry, half-conscious, half-tranced and totally toxicated.
There is no lack of reasons to be excited in December, especially in Japan.
It is the season of skiing for sport-lovers, the season of illumination for the romantic, the month of Christmas for Christians and couples, the month of the Emperor’s birthday for the right wing, the month of homecoming for people living away from their families, and last but not least, the month of drinking and getting drunk with a reason for all.
Walking on the streets alone in this month may be sheer pressure, watching couples sharing their shadows and umbrella shielding away the cold bitter wind, and being put in the spotlight by the exaggeratedly extravagant illumination lining up on the streets. But put that away, and it is a month of sheer pleasure. Every time I enter a store, I hear a Christmas song of which I end up humming its tune. Every time I look into someone’s face, he or she is always putting on a big wide smile. Altruism seems to come alive in December, with every smile and greeting reaching into the heart and warming it up.
However, being the last month of the year, December is where Japanese have their annual forget-the-year parties. It seems to give an image of Japanese salarymen slogging their lives away for 11 months, suffering and earning peanuts, such that they want to forget it all by December, so they can restart the entire cycle all over again.
But I was clearly misled by the stereotypes. In fact, it is the exact opposite. It is the month where people bury the hatchet, forgive and forget past hatred and wrong-doings. A month of repent and learning. And ironically this is done through drinking and getting drunk.
I had a forget-the-year party last Friday within my division of 30 people in the company, and being one of the 6 new members in the division, our share was divided among the rest, with the higher-ranked and higher-paid superiors paying larger portions. We had a great time, drinking makkori, eating takkanmari and forgiving each others’ sins. The party ended in two hours and I got home immediately after that.
After the weekend, we got back to work today, welcomed by the earliest snowfall in many years. I was surprised when one of my colleagues, also new in the division, as soon as she arrived at the office, went forth to our superiors and thanked them for paying her share at the party on Friday.
How polite, I thought. And consequently, as the next new colleague came into the office, she headed straight to the superiors and thanked them. I was left dumbfounded, embarrassed by my ignorance of such etiquette in the Japanese culture. I later on went forth, too, to my superior and did the same thing, just in case I might need another forget-the-year party to make them forgive me for my oblivion and impoliteness.