by Kit Nagamura
Parents: What are you going to do for Juniors birthday party this year? Let’s imagine Junior is in elementary school, and you’ve tried to stick to the old rule about inviting the same number of guests as the birthday child’s age, but Junior’s best friends number in double digits.
If the season is right, and you’re lucky, the park is a good option for a treasure hunt or sports-related party. If you happen to have enough space at home and a wealth of patience, a sleepover is very popular, too. But let’s suppose it’s March, when the weather is fickle, and your home space is limited.
Many parents opt to celebrate birthdays at the neighborhood McDonald’s, with a reasonably priced package deal, complete with meals, balloons and prizes. But what if Johnny has been there and done that?
Instead of reeling as if you’re on thin ice, try skating on it. The best deal in town for a party on ice is Citizen Skate Rink, about eight minutes walk from Takadanobaba Station. The friendly staff, with limited but enthusiastic English skills, will provide you with maps to tuck into invitations.
Citizen has racks of kid-sized skates, plenty of safety gear and, best of all, several large rooms you can rent for distributing your cake, cocoa and goody bags. Fees are reasonable (¥1,300 includes skate rental and protective gear, and there are group discounts for 20 or more) and, if you hire one of their skating instructors, your ice-capades will be off to a safe start.
Get kids’ boot sizes in advance (so the rink will have them ready) and remind your little ones to dress warmly and wear gloves. There’s free parking and, for large groups, the rink distributes vouchers for a free game of bowling in the same facility. If you want your choice of party rooms, plan to reserve at least a month in advance (tel. 3363-2211).
Prefer terra firma? Bowling more down your alley? The Tokyo American Club has excellent facilities for members, but if you’re not in that lane, bumper games (with rubber-filled gutters for beginners) can be had at several locations in the city. Costs to consider include the lane reservation fee (varies depending on time and day, but figure on about ¥ 4,500 an hour, per lane) and shoe rental (¥300-350, per pair).
At Ebisu Grand Bowl (near JR Ebisu Station, tel. 3715-2111), Koho Tsurumi can help you pin down details — and even arrange a packed lunch for the kids — in English. At Tokyo Dome Bowling Center (Tokyo Dome City, tel. 3817-6115) Nishigori-san is the English-speaking contact, but note the minimum reservation time is two hours, and about two-months’ lead time for reservations is required.
EST Amusement Center (Shibuya, tel. 3409-4721) features futuristic lanes with black lighting, and Tokyo Port Bowl (Shibaura, tel. 3451-9211) is the choice of the pros, with a kid-friendly restaurant nearby. Strike the perfect party note with toy trophies, score sheets and snapshots of guests for souvenirs.
Those of you with a little extra time on your hands might try the all-weather approach to a scavenger hunt. Because it requires a lot of set-up, this kind of party is likely to be as memorable for you as for Junior.
Choose a large museum for your location, such as the Edo-Tokyo Museum (Ryogoku Station, ¥300 for kids, ¥600 for adults; English leaflets and guides available).
During your reconnaissance trip (yes, you read that right), fashion a sheet of questions that can be answered by examining the exhibits. Vary your questions, with some silly, some easy-peasy, and some thought-provoking.
At the party, break into exploratory teams (it’s more fun that way), then gather later to compare results, handing out replica antique Japanese gold coins or traditional Japanese toys as prizes (available at Tokyu Hands).
For hunts of this sort, art museums work well too, especially ones with permanent collections, such as the Modern Museum of Art (Takebashi Subway Station, ¥420 for adults, free for elementary students).
Prepare specific questions as well as conceptual ones, and reward efforts with paint sets and berets. If the museum prohibits pencils in the hands of kids — some do, so check first — substitute with a sheet of colored stickers to paste on multiple choice questions. Post-hunt, reserve a small restaurant or cake shop near the museum to enjoy refreshments.
For those who would prefer your young ones seated start to finish but still want the celebration to “go places,” a child-friendly restaurant, such as T.G.I. Friday’s, the Outback Steakhouse (Shinagawa, tel. 5798-3501), or Fujimama’s in Harajuku (tel. 5485-2283), provide a venue limited only by your imagination.
The trick is to invest energy in the idea you choose, and to balance real information with sheer fun. If you’re eating ‘burgers, for example, go cowboy, with spurs, hats, a knot-tying exhibition and, once you get outside, steer-roping contest (this is where Dad helps out).
Ethnic restaurants — Indian, Mexican or Thai in particular — offer atmospheric jump-starts. Let your imagination and that of your kids go new places.