How To Celebrate A Japanese Birthday Happy Birthday to You! And You! And Me!

    In Koichi's previous article, "What It's Like Dating A Japanese Girl," he wrote about Dale's interesting New Year's Eve experience with a Japanese girl, and I thought it would be a good idea to learn about the other special occasions in Japan, such as birthdays and Christmas, Valentine's day & White day. However, again, I'm sorry that we are going at this topic by topic, but each topic contains so many things! Today, we are going to look at how couples celebrate "Japanese birthdays."

    Birthdays In Japan

    A young Japanese girl prepares to blow out birthday candles
    Source: Miki Yoshihito

    Japanese birthdays are not as big a celebration as they are in the West. In fact, there was no custom of celebrating birthdays in Japan until around 1950! Before this, there was only one day on which to celebrate birthdays (everyone's birthday) and that day was New Year's Day. This was because ancient people thought everyone got older on New Year's Day, not the day they were born. Since then, however, Japan has been influenced by Western culture, so they started celebrating people's birthdays on the date of their actual birth.

    In Japan, the only time you'll organize your own birthday party is when you are a child, although your parents likely played a bigger part in the actual organization of it than you did. The cake is a "must" and we sing "Happy Birthday" in the dark and blow the candles out on the cake (a 1:1 ratio of candles to years). It's the same as Western culture, isn't it?

    Now that I'm an adult, I feel uncomfortable when someone says "Hey, I'm having a birthday party on Sunday. Can you come?" In Japan this discussion would take place in a conversation amongst friends like, "Hey, Mami's birthday is on April 9th, so we are planning a birthday party. Are you available that day?" When someone celebrates their birthday, though they can have a say in where to go or what to do, it's customary that when making arrangements, inviting people to it and paying the bill is not their responsibility. Food is, of course, a big part of Japanese culture, so it is very common to be treated to a meal on your birthday. A lot of restaurants also anticipate birthday parties being held there, so they keep cake and candles on hand for such occasions.

    In the case of my husband and I, he doesn't like being the main person of focus or attention, so he never plans an event to celebrate himself. Knowing how much he dislikes it, I've only organized a party for him once.

    Birthday For Couples (Women)

    A young Japanese woman celebrates her birthday with her boyfriend
    Source: Scion_Cho

    However, this sort of "surprise" party is usually held a few days before or after the actual birthday because the birthday person may have a boyfriend or a girlfriend and they usually go on dates for special occasions. Even high school students, if they have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, will go on a date for their birthday.

    According to research conducted by Ozmall in June, 2011, 56% of 800 women ages 20 – 29 years old want to spend their birthday alone with their boyfriend or husband. As for a presents, 27% want accessories, 20% want to go to a restaurant, 17% just want to spend some time with their partner, 9% want to go on a trip within Japan, 7% want to travel abroad, 6% want to be proposed to, 5% want brand-name things such as bags or wallets, 2% want a watch, and 7% want something else (miscellaneous).

    Many of these participants said that the reason for wanting an accessory was "because I want to feel my boyfriend/husband is with me at all times." Isn't that romantic? Lovey-dovey vomit tummy! Ugh, I just tasted the gyuudon I had for lunch.

    Birthday For Couples (Men)

    A young Japanese man celebrates his birthday with his girlfriend
    Source: Scion_Cho

    The same organization conducted another research study among 200 men who have a wife or a girlfriend and about 70% of them answered that they go on a date for their birthday.

    In regards to presents, most of them actually answered that they would be happy with anything their girlfriends gave them, but they do have a preference for what they would like to do on their birthdays. 28% said that they would like to go on a "dinner date to a fancy restaurant," followed by 16% who wanted to "stay in a hotel," 15% who wanted to go on an "onsen date," 13% who wanted a relaxing night in, 6% who wanted to go to a theme park (ex. Disneyland), 4% who wanted to watch sports, another 4% who wanted to eat at an average restaurant, 3% who wanted an relaxing spa date, 1% who wanted a beach date, and 10% wanting other things (miscellaneous).

    I think you can see a lot of the differences between men and women right there.

    Romantic Birthday

    A Japanese birthday cake topped with strawberries and candles
    Source: is_kyoto_jp

    So, the birthday is as important for Japanese couples as it is for couples from many other countries. Although most couples don't bother making plans that fall very far outside the norm, others want to be very unique as a way to show their boyfriends/girlfriends that they are special. A classmate of mine from university falls into the latter description. I remember he once wrote a poem on the back of a picture of himself that was enlarged to life size and gave it to his girlfriend at a Kobe beef steak restaurant. If I was her, I might have been embarrassed because he told me this monstrosity (imagine a Justin Bieber life-size poster) was standing behind them throughout their entire meal at a fancy restaurant. Apparently, the girl was very impressed and quite taken by the amount of thought put into her present.

    Trying to make your significant others' birthday very romantic is not only a Japanese thing, but a commonality shared among many countries. According to S(Initial) , a 35-years-old female, she dated a very romantic German man for a while and now she's having a lot of difficulty finding a nice guy like him. Here is her description of her romantic birthday.

    "On my birthday, he gave me a picture frame with three pictures in it. There were three messages, one underneath each picture. The picture on the left was of him when he was a baby and the message read "I was born into the world, and…" The middle picture was a picture of him and me together and the message read "an angel…" The one on the right was a picture of me and him hugging each other and the message read "caught me" (Her cheek turned red as she spoke). It was such a great present and I felt so happy."

    The border between cheesy and romantic is so difficult to distinguish sometimes. What's cheesy to some is romantic to others. Personally, I think this was adorable. I hope my husband doesn't read this article so I can do the same thing for his next birthday. Think he'll like it?

    Lame Birthday That Turns Women Away

    Ruined cake with the phrase THIS CAKE IS A LIE!
    Source: armigeress

    Although some plans work out well, like the one above, others could be considered cheesy or lame and cause women to turn away. I found and shared a few of the lame ways in which men confessed their love to women in my previous article: Japan's "Love Confession" culture. Why not learn the type of birthday plans that turn women off, as well? It's often said that "failure is a stepping stone to success", right? Luckily, I found research conducted by my-navi-woman from June 3 to June 10, 2013 in which over 389 women were asked about this topic. Let me share some of them! (I apologize in advance for not being able to find one for the opposite sex, which would be "lame birthday plans that make men flee")

    • 「期待しといて!1日予定空けておいて」と言われて、めっちゃ期待したのに、結局ノープランだった(32歳/女性)
    • I was told, “Look forward to your birthday and please be available the whole day”, but he ended up having no plans. (32 year-old-woman)

    How bad is that? Was the surprise that there was no surprise? If so, good work! You shocked her right out of wanting a boyfriend. I wonder why he couldn't come up with anything, though. I mean, even a last minute idea could be a "yakiniku birthday" where you spend the whole day out eating lunch and dinner at a yakiniku restaurants and fill in the gaps at the mall letting her pick out a shirt or two.

    • レストランで店員さんにハッピーバースデーを歌われた。全然うれしくなかったので、喜んだふりするのが面倒だった(29歳/女性)
    • In a restaurant, all the waitresses sang “Happy Birthday” to me. I wasn’t happy at all, so it was difficult to pretend as if I was glad. (29 years old woman)

    It seems that being sung to in front of a lot of people would more than likely be embarrassing for most adult Japanese women – perhaps most people? I certainly would be, anyhow.

    • ディズニーランドに行ったときに、彼氏がいろんなスタッフに「彼女の誕生日なんです」と言って至る所で歌われたこと(28歳/女性)
    • When we went to Disneyland, my boyfriend told every single staff member, ‘Today is my girlfriend’s birthday”, and every single one of them sang “Happy Birthday” to me at every single place. (28-year-old woman)

    This may be more embarrassing than being sung to in a restaurant! Hey, since we're at a theme park, you might as well just tar and feather me, throw pies in my face (preferably strawberry), set me up as the dunkee at a dunk tank and hire a comedian to crack jokes about me while I dirty up the water.

    • オリジナルソングを歌われた(35歳/女性)
    • I was sung an original song. (35-year-old woman)

    Original songs can be a death sentence, unless you are really good at it. I think you also need to have a relationship with a few thousand miles clocked up for that to work. Perhaps not, but I think a truly good original song would come from knowing someone really well.

    • サプライズをするつもりが自分で事前にばらしてしまった(34歳/女性)
    • He was planning a surprise party for me, but he accidentally told me. (34-year-old woman)

    That's a bit careless. Maybe he was too excited about the party to keep it secret from his the person he most loved. Actually, that might be the perfect thing to say to get yourself out of that blunder.

    • 誕生日プレゼントを宝探しのように探させたかったみたいで、暑い中蚊に刺されながら探した。プレゼントを見つけるまでに疲れ切ってしまって、もうどうでもよくなりました(30歳/女性
    • He wanted me to find the present he got me, like a treasure-hunt, but it was summer and I had to look for the present outside on a very hot day while being bitten by mosquitoes. He hid it very well, so I had exhausted myself before finding it and gave up. I literally thought, “Whatever!” (30-year-old woman)

    I guess he wanted to make it like an attraction in a theme park. Live and learn, I suppose. Next time make it a little easier. Not everyone wants to solve a Rubik's Cube on their birthday.

    • 誕生日を祝おうと言われて彼氏の家に行ったら彼の両親や家族が勢ぞろいしていた。サプライズの方向がおかしい(28歳/女性)
    • I was told “Let’s celebrate your birthday” by my boyfriend and I went over to his house. Then I found out that all his parents and relatives were there. It was such a weird surprise party. (28-year-old woman)

    I believe that most of women need time to prepare when they meet boyfriend's parents and his relatives. Furthermore, it is weird that only his family and relatives were there on her birthday and not her friends or family, isn't it?

    • 誕生日に彼氏が私の好きなアニメのコスプレをして登場した。3次元にそういうの求めていないし似合っていないし最悪だった(25歳/女性)
    • On my birthday, he showed up dressed as my favorite anime character. First of all, I don’t like it when 3D people try to be 2D. Furthermore, he didn’t look like the character at all. It was horrible. (25-year-old woman)

    It's pretty sad that he didn't look like the character at all. I wonder what the character was. I hope it wasn't a titan from "Attack on Titan" because they don't wear any clothes.

    • 高崎白衣大観音に連れて行かれた。渋すぎる……(29歳/女性)
    • I was taken to Takasaki-byakue-daikannon. It’s too cultured for me. (29-year-old woman)

    Takasaki-byakue-daikannon (aka Takasaki kannon) is a huge statue of Kannon (the goddess of mercy) at Jigen-in temple in Takasaki city in Gunma prefecture. It's height is 41.8m and it weighs 5,985 tonnes. It would be fine for a normal day, or even a date, but a temple is too cultural of place to celebrate a birthday. I wonder why he decided to take her there. Perhaps he didn't know her very well, yet.

    • 誕生日なのに、仕事帰りに彼氏の知り合いの誕生日会に参加された(23歳/女性)
    • Although it was my birthday, he joined a different birthday party after his work. (23-year-old woman)

    That's a Japanese guy for you. Not all of them, of course, but many of them make work, or even friendships between men, more of a priority than girlfriends and relationships.