DIY Birthday Party!
Old school birthday parties are the best!
Birthday parties are for creating memories and children love to feel special for a day. Living outside of our own countries, we need these cultural rituals even more sometimes. While it isn`t common for Japanese children to have large parties, they will be so excited to be invited. Parties do not need to be elaborate though, in fact some of the best parties are at home with our own families. I usually rotate years amongst my children to who gets a big party, otherwise it would be too overwhelming. Be honest with yourself with how much energy you have and cut corners when necessary, it is ok to buy a cake or skip hand written invites, your child will enjoy themselves more if you aren`t stressed out. Also, get your child`s input, they always have great ideas and you can get a sense of what is really important for them. Here are some ideas to throwing a birthday party in Japan.
Plan ahead about one month, if possible. Decide all of the basic details such as number of guests, date, time, location, and budget. Double check for over lapping school activities, sport events or holidays that might conflict with the party. Determined how many children you want to invite and make a guest list.
Choosing a theme creates a direction for your party. This often is easy since our kids obsess over a certain characters, toy or styles of play. Pirates, anpanman, princesses, tigers, outer space and insects are a few of our past years` themes. If you can`t find an immediate theme, try something more abstract such a favorite color, season or the age your child is turning.
It is appropriate to invite friends by calling or texting, although it is nice to send paper invitations. Either way, be explicit with details, esp. regarding time and whether or not parents are invited. For children 5 and under usually parents attend and you can keep it under 2 hours. Older aged children can probably attend without parents and parties can run 2-3 hours. If it is a large party, requesting an RSVP 5-7 days before the party is crucial for planning. In Japanese, you could write something such as 参加する人は（５）月（２５）日まで連絡して下さい。よろしくお願いします。『さんかするひと５がつ２５にちまでれんらください。よろしくおねがいします』Mail or text invite about 2 weeks before party.
Decorations: While we don`t have Party Plus stores here in Japan, we do have amazing ¥100 stores! Increasingly, there are more and more party supplies and decorations available. However, if you like to make decorations this clever DIY fabric garland looks great and can easily be re-used.
Supplies: felt in colors you like, washi tape, scissors, sewing machine
Instructions: Cut out lots of felt circles (you can use the template from the KA fabric button craft or trace a small cup). I like to tape the template directly to the felt (with regular scotch tape) and cut around for a clean shape. Next, take a long piece of washi tape with the non-adhesive side down and carefully arrange the felt circles onto the tape.
Using a sewing machine, sew straight down the middle of line of circles that are being kept in place with the masking tape. Pay attention to not have the presser foot directly over tape. Begin and end with a long tail thread used for hanging later.
Unravel the masking tape!!! Looks like a disaster, but actually comes off easily.
Think through a general schedule for the party, but of course stay flexible since nothing ever goes according to plan. A typical party might run like this:
1) Kids arrive 2) free play for a while 3) play one game 4) do one craft 5) have cake and food 6) open gifts 7) free time 8) hand out party favors
** There is no reason to over-do activities, nor do you want it to feel regimented. Nevertheless, I often have extra ideas in mind just in case there is a lull in the party, such as: balloon volleyball, coloring, bubbles or sideway chalk for an outside party, charades etc..
Depending on theme and age, the best kind of games are ones that get all the kids involved, ideally with the least amount of effort on your part! It helps if the kids are familiar with the game, otherwise you spend much of your time explaining the rules. This can be tricky since games from our home countries aren`t always well known here in Japan. Some classic ones that seem to work are hot potato, janken-resha, scavenger hunt, hide and seek, bingo, pin the tail of donkey (great for specifying to the theme). One of my favorites is a super simplified version of a scavenger hunt. We hide items (such as plastic spiders for halloween, candy, cutouts or something pertinent to party`s theme) all over and have kids find them. It never, ever fails, even for older kids. Either count up the items to see who the winner is or just let them keep the items for fun, never mind who `won`.
Many of the previous crafts on this blog would be great for parities, including felt super hero masks, mustache craft, balloon drawing or leaf crowns. Check them out!
Cakes: There are amazing sites for birthday cakes, but I want to share some tips for those who are looking for something nice, but quick and easy.
Cupcakes are always a hit at a party. They look great simply iced with sprinkles or toppers.
A simple decoration for a cake is a number or letter, but looks really wonderful! First, ice the cake and let the icing set (harden a bit). Search online for a printable version of nice letter or number, enlarge it too fit onto the cake and print out. Cut out and lay gently on the cake. Take a toothpick and carefully trace the outline, then lift the paper copy off the cake. Take a tube of icing that hardens (this is important, make sure it is not the soft type) and trace again over the line you just made with the toothpick. Go slowly. Then you can fill in the letter with hard or soft type of icing in either a matching or contrasting color.
I recommend finishing the cake the night before. If you are decorating a special cake, please check the ingredients early since some might need special ordering.
*There is a recipe for chocolate cake and icing on a previous post for Halloween spider web cupcakes.
Cut fruit and veggies, chips and sandwiches are what you will find year after year at a big party of mine. For younger children I use cookie cutters to make cute shapes (hearts, stars, bunnies etc.) for sandwiches. Again, do as much preparation the day before, so go ahead and cut out the shapes the night before and re-seal. Then, finish them up the morning of the party. I usually just serve mugi-cha to avoid confusion (although this doesn`t always go over well with my kids!). Sometimes mothers bring food and drinks, but not always, so I have learned not to depend on it. And always make more than you think you need!
Older kid parties:
Here are some ideas for older kids:
1) Hanabi party-Invite friends over for a pizza dinner and do fireworks together at night!
2) Card game tournament- When my oldest son turned 10 he wanted a Yu-gi-oh party, so we set up a tournament. We used a huge white poster board to keep track of advancing players and scores. The final winner won three Yu-gi-oh packs, but all of the boys were so enthusiast down to the last game. I am not sure what card game is currently popular, but you could adapt it to this type of tournament theme and have a great party.
3) Parfait party- For the foodie in your family! Have ice cream and all the toppings lined up buffet style and let the kids make their own parfait. Super easy, but really fun and messy!
4) Costume Scrapbook party – While playing and dressing up take photos of children and print them out. Make individual small scrapbooks out of white construction paper folded in half and stapled in middle (or your could probably find something at a the ¥100 store). Then with markers and stickers, each child can make their own party scrapbook!
5) Nerf or water gun party- Enough said! If you have a child that likes nerf or water guns, let them run wild and they will love you forever!
6) Sleepover- Basically, kids just want to be left alone, so supply them with a few basics and then relax while trying to ignore the chaos!
Hope this gives you some inspiration for your next birthday party! I know there are so many creative parents out there and would love to hear about your parities too!
p.s. Above photo is of me at my 4th birthday party. 🙂