“You say it’s your birthday, well it’s my birthday too, yeah.” –The Beatles, ‘Birthday’
Well crap, I’m 20. I would go on about how birthdays aren’t as exciting as they used to be, about how I’m getting old, etc., but hey, at least now I will no longer have “teenager” stereotypes imposed upon me, and I can drink legally (in Japan)! Not so bad if I do say so myself. I had a much better Halloween and birthday than I had expected, while having unique experiences that I will definitely only ever be able to experience here in Japan.
Before I delve into the details of Tuesday, allow me to discuss a bit about Halloween. For those wondering, yes, Japanese people do celebrate Halloween, albeit in ways slightly different from Americans. For one, it’s a tad difficult to go trick-or-treating in the concrete jungles that are Japanese cities, not to mention that Japanese notions of “privacy” and “personal space” constitute that if someone shows up at your house begging for candy, they’re either drunk or have negligent parents. Because of this, much to my dismay, there are neither pyramids of fun size chocolates at grocery stores, nor overpriced Halloween costume shops. However, I did celebrate Halloween, even though it may have differed from what I am accustomed to.
My friend, who actually happens to be a student at University of Maryland and lives in Rockville (small world, I know), invited a few other exchange students to her home on behalf of her host mother, as they were throwing a Halloween party and, apparently, going trick-or-treating (yeah, no way I was passing that up). Jumping on the chance to do something on Halloween while being able to practice speaking Japanese, we all headed over to her house after school. At least 20 people showed up, and at 8:00, we all headed out the door to go “trick-or-treating” which actually consisted of three adults positioned in different lobbies around the apartment complex with plastic bags filled with candy. It was slightly pitiful but endearing to watch the kids in vampire and pumpkin costumes shout “trick-or-treat!” to get their small bags of candy. I mentioned to my friends that I wondered how they would react if they came to the United States for Halloween….
After “trick-or-treating,” we all introduced ourselves (the native Japanese speakers in English and the native English speakers in Japanese), and had a dinner that came close to rivaling Thanksgiving, with everything from pumpkin soup to pastries. Following dinner, Katie’s host mom announced that is was time to play a game, and she looked at Katie to lead, who was in the process of taking out her homemade index card Apples to Apples game. Now, if any of you have ever played Apples to Apples, you know that it is a ridiculously fun game to play in groups and at parties, but you also know that in order to successfully understand the rules and to play the game, you must have a functioning knowledge of the English language. Well, with a room full of Japanese people, we had no such luxury. Even when translated, sometimes we were at a loss for how to explain. For example, “cold” in English can mean temperature or sickness or the way someone acts toward another, but in Japanese, the translation everyone knew for cold only meant temperature. It actually turned out alright in the end, although each round took about 10 minutes due to our attempts to translate in broken Japanese. Note to self: when introducing any kind of word game, translate everything into Japanese first.
So, after a crazy night of confusing word games and otherwise unidentifiable pumpkin-flavored foods, it was already my birthday. 20, or “hatachi” in Japanese, is considered one of the few landmark birthdays in Japan, as one is considered a legal adult when he or she turns 20. For those wondering, Japanese people celebrate birthdays in more or less the same fashion that Americans do: cake, presents, singing…. However, it’s rare that parties will be massive, presents will be expensive, and cakes will be larger than a few servings (due to one, the cost, and two, Japan’s collectivist mentality as opposed to America’s individualism). Still, birthdays are celebrated in more or less the same way.
After a day at school and an afternoon of studying, my host mom came home and, American senses tingling, I smelled something. That’s right, she had brought home Domino’s pizza, and I was elated. “Americans like pizza, right?” she asked me in Japanese. I couldn’t help respond with an emotional “Yes!”, disregarding the fact that I was reinforcing cultural stereotypes. It was amazing, and (pathetically) tasted a hundred times better than Domino’s in the US. Which it rightfully should have, considering a small pizza in Japan is about $25 without delivery. Who ever thought that potato and spicy mustard pizza would be so amazing? Not Americans, that’s who.
After almost crying tears of joy all over my dinner, they brought out the most beautiful chocolate roll cake with fruit and sang “Happy Birthday” to me in English (which sounded more like “Happi Basudei”, but that made it all the better). I opened my presents: potato chips and gum from Akihiro (13-year-old boys will be 13-year-old boys), a pen and flash cards from Yuya, and a lovely notebook from my host mom. I went to sleep content, barely worried about my kanji (Chinese character) midterm I had the next morning. Without a doubt, it was one of the most unique birthdays I have ever and probably will ever have.
Also: for those of you wondering (because several people have asked), “Happy Birthday” in Japanese (at least a common variation, as there are different levels of politeness) is お誕生日おめでとう (otanjoubi omedetou).
I would also mention that I’ve heard that my grandpa is in the hospital (although I don’t know details), and knowing that he reads my blog, I want to say that you’re in my prayers and thoughts, and I hope you get better soon. I love you, Papa! お大事に！