Getting old - it's an inevitable part of life. But, on March 23, 2013, I had an amazing time getting old alongside my Japanese friends and family.
I think the last time I celebrated my birthday was when I was 10 or 12 years old. I realized at a young age that big birthday bashes were a big hassle, and I didn't see the fun in planning, organizing, and then running around the party to make sure my guests were having a good time.
This year, however, my host family decided to throw a birthday party for me and invite all our HIPPO friends to participate. I was fine with that -- if someone else throws me a party, I wouldn't have to hassle myself or feel any pressure. Bring on the part-tay!
March 23rd, a Saturday, began like any other ordinary day. That quickly changed when the mailman came in the morning and presented me with a fatty surprise.
Wow! International Mail Package #2!
My parents (with the help of some relatives this time) sent me yet another package filled with goodies from America. I guess I kinda-maybe-sometimes complain that fruit in Japan is too expensive, so the package was mostly composed of dried fruit. Oh, and lots of socks. My mom asked if it was cold and if I needed any socks before she sent the package, to which I replied "no". But, for some reason, I guess she still decided I need socks. Um, okay. I love my mom
My par-tay wasn't until evening, so a few friends and I planned to go out for hanami before the par-tay started. In Spring, Japan is covered with beautiful pink cheery blossoms, and Japanese people enjoy having picnics under them -- an activity called hanami.
When I arrived, I was surprised to find not a few people (like we had planned) but a group of 11 friends! I guess word of my pre-par-tay hanami par-tay got out, and many friends decided to come and join. I love my friends
We decided to go to Ueno Park, which is definitely the place to go if you find yourself in Tokyo and want to do some hanami. It has more than 1000 cherry blossoms and a long alleyway to walk under them.
...and just like everywhere in Japan, Ueno park was crazy crowded. I guess word about my pre-par-tay hanami par-tay in Ueno Park really got out, because ALL of Japan came to celebrate with us.
After we couldn't find a place to sit in the crowded park, we finally settled in an off-limits area (oops), and started our hanami with the heaping mountain of snacks and drinks.
After hanami-ing, we cleaned up and a group of us got ready for my real birthday par-tay that same evening.
When we arrived, my friends were ushered in and I was told to wait outside of the door. I assumed to find a few HIPPO members inside, maybe some friends of my family, oh, and probably even some Russians who came to HIPPO the week before to participate in home-stays.
When I was finally let in, I realized that I was completely wrong. It was not a par-tay. It was an Ō-ban-buru-mai.
An Ō-ban-buru-mai is the Japanese word for a big, big lavish party - kinda like the parties thrown by Gatsby in The Great Gatsby.
[By the way, the word "Gatsby" has a completely different meaning in Japanese culture. In Japan, Gatsby is the name of a hair gel for men. Once, I asked my Japanese friends if they knew about The Great Gatsby, and they all simultaneously began singing and dancing to the song from the Gatsby hair gel commercial. It was quite funny.]
Anyway, the moment I walked into my Ō-ban-buru-mai, I was greeted by a parade of people who had gathered from all over the Tokyo area to celebrate my birthday with me.
I was expecting my host family to throw me a small get-together, but I was shocked to find a big, beautifully decorated room and tons of people. A real Ō-ban-buru-mai.
I was so shocked that I couldn't find words to say. The below picture fully conveys the emotions I was feeling at that moment:
Next, we began to eat. No! I'm sorry ... I mean feast. We began to feast. They do not eat at Ō-ban-buru-mai's. They feast.
There was a TON of food, and after eating it, my host mom rolled out a cart with a ginormous birthday cake that she had baked herself.
The cake said "Daniel, Happy 20th Birthday" and included a drawing of my face in portrait. IT WAS HUGE! It made Costo look like it was selling cupcakes for kiddies. I can't believe my host mom baked that. I love my host mom
After eating cake, we watched a slideshow of my time in Japan, danced to SADA, and listened to people give me birthday wishes. There were even video birthday wishes from friends who couldn't come to my Ō-ban-buru-mai, including last years Hippo intern, Sakkun, now currently in Canada. It was very touching - I even let some tears drop.
The mass of people who came to my Ō-ban-buru-mai also included two friends from my Japanese church. Seeing them was also a huge surprise - I keep HIPPO and church totally separate. How did church people come to my Ō-ban-buru-mai? I later found out that my host mom secretly contacted my church and invited them. And even though there was another church event that day, they still decided to come. I love my church
After my Ō-ban-buru-mai ended and I returned home, I used all of the presents I had received to create a mini memorial for myself.
It was difficult to wrap my head around the fact that March 23rd began like any other ordinary Saturday. By the time the day was over, I had received a package from America, hanami'ed at Ueno Park, celebrated an Ō-ban-buru-mai, and received enough presents to make myself a memorial. Wow.
The entire day was an overload of surprises and emotions. I so blessed by my heavenly father for this opportunity. I am particularly grateful for such a wonderful host family, who took the time to plan something so wonderful for me. I am moved beyond words. I love my host family
The Ō-ban-buru-mai was not the end of my birthday festivities. At the office on Monday, my co-workers surprised me with a cake that was covered in fruit, and a bag of some quality brown rice (my favorite Japanese food).
But that's not all. The next day, some other HIPPO members took me out to a fancy French restaurant and surprised me with some fancy birthday dessert
Oh wait. There's more. The day after that, during a HIPPO club meetings for college students, the members surprised me by singing "Happy Birthday" and giving me tons of my favorite thing in the world, FRUIT!
Wow. I have never celebrated my birthday in a four day period before. Definitely the best birthday ever.
I love Japan.
I love everyone in Japan.
I love everything.