by Katherine Whatley

A child’s birthday is one of the most important days in his or her year. But for parents, it can be one of the most stressful, especially when parties are called into question. Where do you hold it? What about food? How many children do you invite? These are just some of the questions that a parent must answer, and they become even more difficult and stressful with the language and cultural barrier. But with a little research and planning, it is possible to find the perfect solution in the form of an interesting, different or exciting celebration, right here in Tokyo.

Bowling is a pretty standard birthday party activity, both in Japan and the West. To mix it up a bit, hold your child’s birthday party at Shibuya EST’s black light bowling alley. If you have never heard of black light bowling, you’re in for a fun treat. The whole bowling alley is flooded with black lights, making everything that’s white, including the pins, glow. Very young kids may be a little scared by the effect at first, so take your child there before you book the party. You can reserve a lane, which can be used by up to six people, for ¥4,000  an hour.

EST does not have a set catering plan for parties, but a variety of snack-type food is available for order, including pizza, sausages and potato chips. Prices for food start from just ¥300, but call or check EST’s website for more information. Unfortunately, bowlers are not allowed to bring in their own food, so having a cake may be slightly problematic.

In the US, many children hold their birthday parties at restaurants, relieving parents of any kind of cooking or clean-up burdens. Though there are not many restaurants that cater to the needs of kids’ parties in Japan, the Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi is one of the few that does. Kids will love the rock music and memorabilia which Hard Rock is famous for, and the restaurant has a regular kids’ menu featuring hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken strips. For parties, the staff serve up a similar menu for all the guests, costing just ¥980 per person including drinks. Also, Hard Rock Cafe will be happy to make a cake for the occasion, as long as it is booked at least one week in advance.

If your child has a summer birthday, why not hold his or her party at Jingu Ice Skating Rink so everyone can spend some time cooling down? Though the venue is not techinically set up for birthday parties, it is very easy to go in and buy passes at just ¥1,400 per child for skates and a full day’s entry. You may want to bring your own food however, as there is only a convenience store on the premises.

If you want to include a splash of local culture in your child’s birthday, try cycling around the Imperial Palace on a route blocked off for bikes every Sunday. Not only will the children get a lot of exercise riding around this scenic three-kilometer route, but biking around the Imperial Palace is sure to leave a lasting impression. And the best part? It costs nothing! You can rent bikes provided by the Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute for no charge, making this a great option even for those coming from somewhat far away. Afterwards, why not look around the Imperial Gardens? Just be sure to pack a picnic and snacks, as there are very few convenience stores and no restaurants around the Imperial Palace, and the children are sure to work up an appetite during their ride.

These are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling, but a little research will show that there are plenty of other options available, from group karaoke to build-a-bear workshops. Start by contacting the businesses and organizations below, and be sure to allow for ample planning time to make sure your child’s big day is truly special.

Parenting Tip:

Resources to get started

Shibuya EST:

Tel: 03-3409-4721, (Japanese only)

Hard Rock Cafe Roppongi:

Tel: 03-3408-7018, (English and Japanese)

Jingu Ice Skating Rink:

Tel: 03-3403-3458, (English and Japanese, but no English-speaking staff)

Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute:

Tel: 03-5572-6412 or 03-3211-5020 (Sundays only), (English and Japanese, but no English-speaking staff)

Photo credits:

Photos by Katherine Whatley