Generally in Japan we grown-ups don’t celebrate our birthday as people do in other countries. For your birthday, you usually get a present from your close family and friends. Throwing a party at your house, inviting many friends of yours and having a nice time together at your place is actually a nice thing, but we don’t have such a custom. Why? For kids, a birthday is a pretty important occasion because of presents. I used to remember all of my classmates’ birthdays and give them presents at school. Some parents, usually mothers, would organize their kid’s birthday parties at home. Actually, it’s somehow very common to have a cake with strawberries on the top as a Japanese birthday cake, which is called „shôto kêki“, I don’t know why but it’s a part of the Japanese birthday ritual. However, kids increasingly ask for cakes decorated with their favorite cartoon characters, like „Hello Kitty“.
In Germany, and probably in many other countries, if you want to have your own birthday party, you need to prepare it on your own (except for surprise parties of course). In my opinion, you are the birthday boy or girl and it’s your special day so you don’t have to do anything! I’ve thrown a couple of birthday parties here and it was a lot of fun, but at the same time I was really exhausted taking care of my guests all night. After a couple of my birthday parties, I now prefer having a small party at a restaurant instead of my place.
To me, birthday parties seem very special for people in European countries, as you can get many phone calls on your birthday. It’s quite a nice custom, but honestly it took me a while to get used to remembering my friends’ birthdays and making phone calls to congratulate them on their birthdays. What I can’t really understand is that some get in a huff if you forgot to make a phone call and wish them a happy birthday. In Japan, I would say it’s not so important to remember the birthdays of your family or friends, except for your boy- or girlfriend. I personally try to make an effort not to forget my parents’ birthdays, but I often do.
Of course it’s a nice surprise to get a phone call from your family or friends on your birthday, but it should not be expected, I think. I’m getting better at making birthday phone calls to friends here in Germany every year. It’s because many of them are now my good friends and I know them well. Therefore, it turns out a birthday call is a way to stay in contact with friends.
As a conclusion, it’s not my fault that I don’t like making calls on birthdays because it’s a part of the Japanese culture. On the other hand, sometimes you need to adapt to other cultures – as the proverb goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. That is especially true if you are in a foreign country – even if you don’t share their view.