It was Japanese Talk Onlines 2nd Birthday this week (4th October to be exact)!!! 誕生日おめでとう！！！ To celebrate we’re going to talk about how people celebrate their birthdays in Japan as they’re very difference compared to the West.
The idea of celebrating the anniversary of one’s birth with a party, cake, family and friends, in the way that we understand it, is a very Western idea. You may have noticed watching J-drama or anime, that when a person celebrates their birthday Happy Birthday is sung. This might not seem that strange but when you think about it, this is a VERY Western thing to do, and Japanese people even sing it in English, there is no Japanese equivalent.
Other Western ideals have also shaped the way Japanese people celebrate birthdays over the years. Similar to Halloween, Birthdays are mostly for children. Cake is normally a victoria sponge with white icing and strawberries, with a chocolate plaque that says Happy Birthday or お誕生日おめでとう across it with the person’s name. Happy Birthday is sung and the candles are blown out.
I’ve found that unlike the West though birthday’s aren’t a big deal, especially if you’re older. Parties are held for children but they’re not massive events. If you’re a young adult your birthday might be celebrated but it’s organised by your friends rather than yourself, and again, it won’t be a massive party. Also, a bit similar to Christmas in Japan, birthdays might be celebrated with one’s boyfriend/girlfriend, and is an excuse to go on a date. I know some birthdays in the UK which have been large drinking affairs with costumes and lots of decorations (although it depends on the person), but birthdays in Japan tend to be a lot more relaxed with fewer people, and probably not as much drinking. (Although this is probably also dependent on individuals).
There are, however, some very special Japanese traditions to do with certain ages that aren’t celebrated in the West. These aren’t often on one’s birthday but on a special day during year. One is Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3), celebrated on the 15th November every year for three and seven year old girls, and three and five year old boys. Children of these ages are dressed in Kimono and taken to shrines to pray for health and well-being. They are also given Chitose Ame (千歳飴), which means “thousand year candy”, not because it’s gone-off, but to symbolise 1000 years of healthy.
Another important festival linked with age is the Coming of Age Day (成人の日) which is when one turns 20. This day is held on the second Monday of January for anyone aged 20 from April 2nd, or who will turn 20 up to April 1st. Japanese people will dress in Kimono (the women often have large white fluffy shawls, and men often wear suits), and have a ceremony at the local city office where the government officially recognises them as adults. This means the new adults have expanded rights (such as legalised drinking), but also new responsibilities as adults. After the ceremony people normally go out to celebrate with their friends by drinking.
Japan has a very large group mentality and culture is based around this. One’s Birthday is a very personal, individual affair, and so isn’t as celebrated as some other festivals related to age with includes a number of other people in a group celebration.
Doesn’t mean you still can’t sing Happy Birthday though ^^