Bring out the candles! Blow up those balloons! Leave the clowns at home, but make sure to bring a smile. It’s time to celebrate! Let’s see what a birthday is like in Japan~ I’ll give some tips I can offer on planning/ celebrating with the people you care about.
Birthday Celebrations in Japan
Don’t Forget Your Party Hat
Let’s talk about some of the parties I’ve thrown and experienced over the last year. After about 6 years in Japan, I’ve been to a fair amount of unique birthday parties. I’ve been to all types of parties for both foreigners and Japanese people. Fundamentally, I don’t believe that there’s a very big difference between how Japanese people celebrate birthdays and how foreigners celebrate birthdays; it mainly depends on a variety of factors, such as if the person being celebrated is shy, if they’re in a family or friend group, the age of the people involved, and so on. Either way, the sentiment that the birthday celebration is meant to make the birthday boy/girl feel special is in every party I’ve attended.
A Little Lying Never Hurts
I am basically the self-appointed surprise party queen of my friend group here in Japan. That being said, over the last year, I have planned most, if not all, of the major surprise parties for my friend groups and have a 100% success rate with the birthday boy/girl being surprised each and every time. (I really recommend surprising the person <IF THEY LIKE SURPRISES> and catching their reaction on video, it’s priceless every time and they’ll love the memory.)
For surprise parties, I always try to “prime” the person in advance while making sure to gather everyone in a LINE group chat that has all of the birthday boy’s/girl’s friends. I recommend doing this a month in advance just to make sure everything is together, fully planned out, and can go off without a hitch!
For one of my friend’s surprise parties, I told her that I needed to speak to her privately about some drama that I had gotten myself into a month before her birthday. Of course, it was a complete fabrication, but it was one that got her interested and dying to hear about the drama. Imagine her surprise as I told her a complete lie about my love life for 15 minutes as we walked to our destination, only for us to get to the Izakaya restaurant, open the sliding doors to the private room, and for her to see all of her friends there. She was so confused and fully believed everything I said, so she had to take a few seconds to understand what was going on! Not only did she feel loved and special that all of these people came together just for her, but she also got to eat delicious food to her heart’s content at the restaurant.
I recommend going to a nice comfortable restaurant where people can warm up to each other and just have fun talking and introducing themselves, especially if it might be their first time meeting or if they’re a friend coming alone without knowing anyone else in the group. The Izakaya restaurant was perfect because we were able to make as much noise as we wanted, play games, and easily speak with one another as a group of 15 people. It was a wonderful time with wonderful people.
Surprise Party Tips:
1)Plan in advance
2)Start a Line group with their friends (and ask them to invite other mutual friends)
-brainstorm with the group
3)When in doubt, the 100円 store will have every party decoration you need to hang on the wall
There are three things that can be guaranteed when I celebrate with my Japanese family here.
I’ve celebrated over 6 birthday celebrations with them over the last year and have had the time of my life every single time. On top of that, there are a lot of celebrations between Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, and so on. Let’s just say that almost every month, we gather together to celebrate something- I couldn’t love it more! After this many celebrations over the last year, there are a few things that I’ve noticed about celebrating with my family here in Japan.
One is how thoughtful and planned out things are for the party. Depending on whose birthday it is, my big sister and/or mother here spend hours in the kitchen cooking and making some of the most mouthwatering food I’ve ever had in my life. It’s amazing that they always make different dishes, almost as if course meals, and that they come out perfectly each time! This time around for my ‘mother’s’, Maako-chan, birthday party on November 11th, my brother-in-law got イセエビ(ise ebi). It gave me quite a fright when he opened the box and showed it to me- LIVE AND DANCING AROUND! It’s fair to say that I screamed at the surprise. It was so fascinating to watch my sister and her husband work together in the kitchen to make the food- her making the main dishes, him removing the ise ebi meat to make sashimi.
Not to mention that my big sister’s best friend, who is probably one of the best Patissiers in Japan, makes the most delectable birthday cakes every time. Hands-down, she knows how to make an aesthetically pleasing cake that practically melts in your mouth. Check out some of her finest work below!
Typically when it comes to these kinds of celebrations, they don’t ask very much of me as I’m pretty useless in the kitchen and would probably get in the way. So, I always try to bring something that I’ve made from home like a drink or another side dish, though I always make sure to bring card games to entertain while the meal is being prepped. It’s a small contribution, but it’s always fun.
After everything is complete, we all eat and talk together with laughter and smiles on our faces, and our stomachs and hearts very warm and full.
This can be said for any party, but one of my favorite parts is the gift-giving because everyone chooses such thoughtful gifts. Whether it be something that was handmade or something that was bought, the thought and appreciation that goes towards the birthday person really means the world to them at every birthday we have celebrated together. This year, aside from a few things I bought, I made Maako-chan a decorated frame with her name on it and a beautiful photo of her that I took along with a birthday letter on the back. Since it was her birthday, of course, she had to be the star of the photo, however, Papa was also in the photo so I had to cover his face with a flower that I glued to the frame. It gave everyone a good laugh since I basically cut him out. All in all, the thought behind the picture itself and the letter meant a lot to Maako-chan and it showed with her happiness and laughter.
Family Party Tips
1)Even if it’s a little, try to contribute (whether that be bringing a small food platter or simply bringing good energy and a smile)
2)Always choose a present from the heart (don’t be afraid to make the present too!)
Every birthday is special, every birthday is unique. While I have numerous experiences celebrating birthdays here, these parties with my family and friend groups are probably some of my favorites to talk about. I hope that everyone can experience celebrating their birthday or a friend’s birthday in Japan at least once regardless of if it’s a small or a big party. Just make sure to have fun and you are bound to have the time of your life with your loved ones!