Japanese Birthday Traditions and Key Celebrations

Published December 17, 2020
Japanese Birthday Traditions

Birthday celebrations around the world take on a special tone. Learn the Japanese birthday traditions along with pivotal birthday moments.

History of Japanese Birthday Traditions

Birthday traditions on a person's actual birthday have only come into existence in the last century. Why? Because, in Japanese culture, everyone celebrated their aging on the New Year. However, as the Western culture has worked its way into Japan, many families have started to celebrate family members' actual birthdays. Birthday parties in Japan do not have the extravagance you see in the west.

Children's Japanese Birthday Traditions

When it comes to birthday celebrations, children get the most out of this new tradition. Parents typically have a small gathering complete with cake and candles. The cake can be simple or elaborate depending on the parent's or child's preference, but typically it has candles for each year. The lights are dimmed, and the Happy Birthday song is sung. The birthday song might be sung in English, but there is also a Japanese equivalent. Depending on the family, parents may give a gift as well. However, some birthday parties can be quite extravagant.

First Birthday Traditions in Japan

On a Japanese child's first birthday, they have a special tradition that is quite different from the American smashing of the cake. In Japanese tradition, children around their first birthday carry or step on a rice cake called an issho mochi, weighing in at about 4 pounds. The falling reaction from children carrying the weight is considered to be good luck. Another first birthday tradition is the erabitori, where a child chooses an item to signify their future. For example, choosing a calculator could signify their future business prowess.

Shichi-Go-San Tradition

Shichi-go-san literally represents seven, five, and three. These are birthdays where parents take seven-year-old girls, five-year-old boys, and three-year-old children of both sexes to a shrine. They also get the traditional Japanese birthday gift of Chitose ame, thousand-year candy. Boys and girls typically wear the traditional dress of Japanese culture. Done on November 15th, an auspicious day, this tradition is for children's health and growth.

Adult Japanese Birthday Traditions

Birthday traditions for adults in Japan are typically low key. A friend or family member can plan a party for them, but it's not something they do for themselves; those who plan the party pay for it. And dinners are a common birthday party surprise. However, these types of celebrations are typically done around the person's birthday rather than on the actual day.

Couple Japanese Birthday Traditions

On the actual day of their birth, Japanese adults like to spend time with their significant other. This could be their spouse or boy/girlfriend. It is typical for them to go out together and exchange gifts with one another. The types of things they do together depend on each person, but they might go to dinner or have a day trip. This is typically a full-day affair.

Man giving girlfriend a surprise gift

Special Adult Japanese Birthday Traditions

Just like in America, Japan has special birthdays for their adults. For example, the US considers 18 and 21 a coming of age birthday, but for the Japanese, this is their 20th birthday. Explore special Japanese birthday traditions for adults.

20th Birthday Tradition

At the age of 20 in Japan, you are an adult. This pivotal birthday is celebrated on the second Monday of January through a ceremony called seijin no hi, coming of age. Adults get an official letter from the government, and women wear a special kimono. On the day of the event, sejin-shiki, 20-year-olds attend a celebration with speeches and performances.

60th Birthday Tradition

Another pivotal adult birthday in Japan is the 60th birthday. This birthday signifies the completion of the zodiac cycle and rebirth. The family hosts the Kanreki, or return calendar, birthday. A special cushion, red sleeveless vest, and fan are included as part of the birthday individual's attire. The cake might be decorated with white cranes or red turtles.

77th Birthday Tradition

Turning 77 also deserves a special celebration in Japanese culture. Why? Because this year is seen as the "joyous year" or "happy age." Someone living to this age is indeed fortunate. It is considered a rite of passage or ga no iwai.

88th Birthday Tradition

Because the character for 88 looks similar to the rice, your 88th year is called the "rice" birthday. Rice is seen as a symbol of goodness, so the 88th year is a joyous celebration. During this special birthday, traditional Japanese gifts like a walking stick with a pigeon are given.

99th Birthday Tradition

In Japan, the 99th birthday is the "white" birthday. Since this is the white birthday, many guests will wear white and give traditional Japanese longevity birthday gifts.

grandfather celebrating birthday with family

Japanese Birthday Traditions

While Japan hasn't always celebrated individual birthdays, birthday celebrations have become common in the last century. Pivotal birthdays for children and adults have special significance.

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Japanese Birthday Traditions and Key Celebrations