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Unique Traditions: Celebrating a Japanese birthday

When it comes to celebrating a Japanese birthday, age makes all the difference. In Western culture, your birthday is the one day of the year where everything is about you, but celebrating a Japanese birthday is influenced by how old you are. 

A joyful history

Birthdays are acknowledged and celebrated in Japan, however, at first they weren’t celebrated until after the Second World War. After the 1950s there was a great influx of American and Western cultures such as fashion, food and celebrations such as Christmas, meaning that birthday celebrations soon became the norm. Celebrating a Japanese birthday didn’t occur as Japan generally focuses on the group rather than the individual and birthdays were seen as a more personal and private affair.
The concept of celebrating the day you were born was initially a foreign concept to the Japanese. Before, the Japanese had only one ‘birthday’, which was the New Year’s Day, since everyone believed that they got older on that day and celebrated together. New Year remains a very special day in Japan and the old custom of giving children and teenagers money as a congratulatory gift still remains, however, a Japanese birthday is now a popular occasion.

Children’s Japanese birthday

When it comes to celebrating a Japanese birthday, it’s children who steal the limelight. Parents organise a small gathering, a cake – usually, a white Victoria sponge with cream is customary – and the number of candles depends on how old the birthday boy or girl is turning. There is no birthday song, so the traditional English version is sung, in English, when the candles are blown out, similar to Western traditions.

Adult birthdays

When it comes to celebrating a Japanese birthday, celebrations don’t stop completely when turning 18. When arranging a birthday, often individuals don’t organise or pay for them. It is customary for friends to organise a party for the one who has a birthday, and all bills are covered by the guests, in order to let the person whose birthday it is enjoy the day without worrying about money. Here, paying for the event counts as a form of group gift.
Many Japanese couples tend to reserve their actual birthday day for their partners. Generally, they go on a date and spend the day or evening together to celebrate. When it comes to buying gifts for a birthday, accessories are favoured gifts and are popular as they can be worn practically every day and can remind the recipient of their significant other.

Japanese birthday festivals

Aside from normal birthdays and New Year, there are several special days throughout the year that celebrate getting older. 7-5-3 day is where girls aged seven and three and boys aged five and three are dressed in kimonos and taken to shrines to pray for health and a long, happy life. When celebrating this birthday, the children are also given a chitose ame, or thousand-year candy, to wish for a thousand years of health. 
Another birthday that is celebrated is the Coming of Age Day which focuses on Japanese youths reaching adulthood at the age of 20. This Japanese birthday is held on the second Monday of January and you will find young people dressing in suits or kimonos when they go to the office to be officially recognised as adults. On this Japanese birthday, young people will usually celebrate by going out drinking with friends, as 20 is the age that you can legally drink in Japan, as well as vote.
Japan has been influenced by Western culture for many decades but a lot of its tradition and culture still remains. Whether it’s celebrating a birthday or enjoying their culture, there are lots of ways Japan has changed due to Western influences. From sake to silverware, fans to fashion, Japan is driven by influence, culture and its artistic nature. At Atelier Japan, our collection of traditional Japanese products is just waiting to be discovered, browse our makers to explore our range of luxury handcrafted Japanese goods that would make the perfect gift for any Japanese birthday.
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