Every December in Japan, as the year comes to a close, groups of friends and companies gather for bonenkai, or “forget the year parties.” Before breaking out the new calendar, these happenings between tight-knit groups allow everyone a chance to say goodbye to the past 12 months together.
That entails a lot of revelry. Bonenkai typically take place in a nice restaurant or karaoke spot, ideally one with ample space for everyone to gather around. Partygoers share a wide variety of delicious dishes and throw back some (or a lot of … everyone’s year is different) drinks, with many a Suntory beverage making an appearance. You need to start prepping your bonenkai now, and to that end, here are some of the finest places to say goodbye to the year in style.
Small talk isn’t a problem at the luxe Den Aqua Room Aoyama. The walls of this basement restaurant feature tanks full of fish, some rainbow colored and others looking like they’re straight out of the Mesolithic. Coupled with the intimate lighting and relaxing music, it’s a good place to reminisce on the year. Den Aqua Room offers both course menus and, for groups of over 40, a buffet option, highlighted by pork in a red wine sauce and yuzu-glazed sausage. They mix up over 60 cocktails too, including eight types of highballs featuring Suntory whiskey and bourbon. Once the night is finished, snap a group photo in front of the aquarium.
Opened in September 2017, Akasaka Godaigo Hanare guarantees to warm you up in the colder months. That’s all thanks to their signature dish, oden, served in a ceramic pot placed smack dab in the middle of the table for everyone to enjoy. Hanare keeps it simple, highlighting the taste of daikon with a clear broth. Round out your bonenkai dining experience with sashimi, yakitori or even meat cooked on a stone grill, all for reasonable prices. On top of a year-end course plan, you can also get an all-you-can-drink service for a little more, allowing you a flowing supply of Suntory beer and highballs.
The folks behind Rocky3 in Akasaka-Mitsuke carry on family traditions at the cozy spot. The store’s origins trace back to Fukuoka after World War II, when the owner’s grandma started making grilled meat on skewers for customers. Now that taste of Kyushu comes to Tokyo, with assorted juicy meats, and rich side dishes such as a Camembert cheese melt. It’s great for a bonenkai because it’s easier to eat beef off a stick than grill it yourself. They stock 180 varieties of wine in house, many from Suntory, along with a bar stocked with whiskey and nihonshu. Make sure to give the punching bag near the door a nice jab on the way out.
Nothing complements a year-end party like some group singing. Karaoke Kan Roppongi provides a premium experience that doesn’t end at the songbook. The towering building features spacious rooms decked out with lights, throwback standing mics and views of Tokyo Tower. It carries over to the food, highlighted by easy-to-share plates of yakisoba, pizza and fried chicken. Save room for the tower of onion rings, and also for a big glass of Suntory beer or a premium highball featuring a variety of Suntory whiskeys. And all of the courses are affordable, so you won’t break the year-end budget. Plus, the costumes are free.
For the office or friend circle that can’t get enough of tuna, this Shimbashi izakaya is for you. Nippon Maguro Gyogyodan specializes in maguro, with the menu listing just where that day’s catch comes from. Set in a space featuring a port theme – check out the seagull statues – it’s a fun spot for you and your associates to try tuna sashimi from every part of the fish, highlighted by the super soft belly meat. One tip – you can request a small grill and salt set, which allows you to briefly cook the stomach meat for a special taste. Sake pairs well with the fish, and this restaurant offers 60 kinds to enjoy, along with Suntory beer and whiskeys.
Home to Kochi Prefecture’s famous Tosa cuisine, Neboke is the perfect place to warm up in the winter months. For the past 45 years, the restaurant has been serving up its delicious bonito tataki, sawachi (assortment of sushi, tataki and sashimi on large plates), and wagyu and fish shabu shabu dishes. Ideal for sharing and well-paired with some hard-to-find sakes, frothy Suntory beer or the foreigner-favorite Japanese whiskey, this is a great spot to celebrate the end of another year. Neboke, which has five restaurants in Tokyo alone, is built and decorated in Minka style (which you would find at traditional thatched-roof Japanese homes), and features kimono-clad waitresses serving mouth-watering delicacies from Kochi. Spoil your colleagues within the welcoming walls of Neboke for a tasty and warming Tosa meal that’s a rare find in Tokyo.
One of 92 branches based in Japan and Singapore, Guenpin Fug-Roppongi is a tourist favorite for fugu (puffer fish). Using only the high-end tora fugu (tiger blowfish), the restaurant chain of 37 years takes most pride in its fugu sashimi and hot pot, which are both great for large gatherings and year-end parties. The most popular course is the Wild Tiger Puffer Course. Apart from the poison, which is of course removed from the puffer fish, the entire fish is used in a variety of dishes – all of which pair well with a cold pint of Suntory’s The Premium Malt’s or a highball. Guests can enjoy two hours of all-you-can-drink service, while enjoying the luxurious dish that is fugu. Best eaten in the winter and sounding a lot like the Japanese word for happiness (fuku), a dish of puffer fish at Guenpin Fug is the perfect way to treat yourself after a hardworking year.
Stepping into Gimmasa in Ginza feels like stepping into Edo-era Tokyo. The restaurant celebrates traditional Japanese cuisine and boasts an omotenashi spirit, meaning you’ll get special attention. And your taste buds will feel decadent when presented with an intricately arranged plate of sashimi sourced from Tsukiji Market daily, or when you bite into their signature grilled tara, a soft piece of fish marinated in a special glaze for four days before cooking. It’s top-notch food, but available for a reasonable price. It’s a great place to end 2017 with good eats, as you sip on The Master’s Dream beer, Suntory’s highest quality brew available.
All run by the Kuuraku Group, Kuuraku and the Fukumimi bistros are masters of the izakaya favorite: yakitori skewers. Tucked away in all their respective locations – Ginza, Shinjuku and Shibuya – the restaurants were initially only for those in the know, with customers hearing about them through word of mouth. Serving yakitori and sosaku ryori such as chicken and vegetable hot pot nabe, the pick-and-choose, plate-style dishes make the food easy to share and fun to eat. While the Kuuraku branch is a bigger, more elegant and stylish venue targeting salarymen, the Fukumimi bistros are more casual, intimate spots, popular amongst shoppers and tourists in the busy districts. Suitable for both small and large groups, the restaurants often host parties and events, making them relaxed yet stylish places for eating and drinking the year away.
Want to find out more about where your Suntory beer comes from? Find out how you can take a Suntory Brewery tour in our article “Where Beer is Born.”
Words by Patrick St. Michel and Naomi Schanen. Photographs by Robert Kirsch and supplied by the restaurants.