On July 17th, I turned 22 (cue Taylor Swift’s lyrical interpretation of this new milestone)! I’ve gotten to celebrate my birthday in some pretty cool places: I turned 14 at a beachside resort in the Philippines, 18 on horseback in the Dominican Republic, 21 squealing over penguins in Cape Town, South Africa and now 22 in Tokyo!
On my actual birthday, I didn’t do much outside of my usual routine. I still woke up at 8am, ate breakfast with Mrs. Koseki and headed off for school by 9am. At school, the students wished me a happy birthday and the rest of the day continued with lessons as planned. Of course, spending all day learning Japanese wouldn’t be my first choice for a birthday celebration, but I had been expecting it.
After class I took the subway to Tokyo’s Ginza district. It was a lot like Toronto’s Yorkville, filled with fancy shops and things I couldn’t afford. But it was fun to window shop and check out another part of this giant city. I even stopped to treat myself to a few pieces of delicious sushi. It doesn’t get much better than sushi in Japan!
My host family had let me know that we would celebrate my birthday on the 18th, since Mr. Koseki and Yuko were both away on the 17th. I wasn’t sure what the celebration would entail, as I’ve heard birthdays aren’t a huge deal in Japan. But I was so touched and blown away by what they had planned.
On the 18th I came home to a dinner of homemade sushi. Except, this sushi looked just as good, if not better, than restaurant sushi! And, it was accompanied by a bottle of champagne. They made me pop the cork and then the whole family tucked in to some delicious food!
After sushi, they pulled out a cake that had my name written on it and candles bought just for me. Everyone sang and I tried not to laugh as Mr. Koseki, who actually has a lovely singing voice, struggled to pronounce my name in time with the song. Pictures were taken, candles were blown out and cake was stuffed into our already full stomachs.
The family then presented me with gifts. I wasn’t expecting anything, but really appreciated the tokens of Japan they gifted me with. Mrs. Koseki’s aunt gave me a beautiful handkerchief that had Mt. Fuji and two little cats on it. Mrs. Koseki bought me a traditional fan decorated with Japanese goldfish. And Yuko gave me the coolest card depicting a Japanese festival.
After all that, the family took me out to the balcony where we lit sparklers. I’ve never been one for pyrotechnics, but I really enjoyed watching the sparklers go off, especially when Mrs. Koseki’s aunt seemed almost afraid of hers.
The next day, Mrs. Koseki took me to a LABO party. LABO is the organization hosting us here in Tokyo and teaching our Japanese lessons. They also run English clubs for Japanese families and facilitate homestays for Japanese children in English-speaking countries. At the LABO party I watched a few skits and speeches by the kids, participated in a game of human knot and even gave a speech myself about all of the places I’ve travelled. I pulled out my pictures, when one kid asked what kind of animals I had seen, and was immediately swarmed by all of the children (and their parents!). It was a really fun event!
Towards the end of the party, the LABO organizers surprised me by getting everyone to sing happy birthday. One of the high school girls then presented me with a handmade card she had drawn and gotten her friends to sign. And one of the moms gave me a package of chopsticks that she explained the LABO moms had handmade for me.
From my host family to people I had just met; I still can’t believe how sweet and kind everyone has been. 22 will definitely be a birthday to remember 🙂