After celebrating my 30th birthday last year(check out that blog here), I had started to make plans for my 31st. Like Jackie Christie said in one of her many ponderosas, if you keep planning a wedding, you won’t have to plan for a divorce. So with that same zeal, if I keep planning for my birthday, I won’t be disappointed when it actually arrives and – I wasn’t.
I wasn’t planning on having a massive celebration but I knew I still had to one-up myself. I compete with me. LOL. However, unlike previous years, there were a lot of shifts happening that would determine how I’d celebrate it. The main one being COVID19 (aaaahhhh). Since March of 2020, the world basically shut down in order to deal with the pandemic. Japan was no exception. The months went by and being the obedient citizens and residents of the land of the Rising Sun, we followed the rules set by our government. The rule? Wear your masks. Seemed pretty simple. Due to to this rule along with other guidelines, we were able to reopen the country from summer 2020. My birthday plans were still in effect.
For my 31st, I didn’t want to be in my city, Nagoya. I wanted a winter escape, surrounded by snow. There was really just one place, close enough for me to spend a weekend, celebrating my birthday. Proximity mattered because I would have to leave work on a Friday evening and head straight into my birthday getaway. It was decided then that I’d be spending my birthday in Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture, Japan. I sound like Stassi from Vanderpump Rules saying “my birthday” so often. Shirakawa-go is a mountain village that hosts many traditional buildings in the specific style known as gassho-zukuri. Think Dutch farmhouses, to get a better picture.
This village is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, so it’s a hot spot for tourists all year round. Shirakawa-go is only 3 hours in total from Nagoya, but I wouldn’t visit till the Saturday. Friday would be used for dinner. So I made plans to stay in a neighbouring city, Takayama, about an hour from Shirakawa-go. If you know anything about my travels from past blogs, there had to be a reason for this. It just so happens that Takayama had better hotel deals than Shirakawa-go for the weekend. I was only planning on staying one night, so paying 90USD was more within my budget than 300USD. Takayama was also familiar territory for me as I’ve been there a few times before – always when it’s cold.
The Invitation List
Similar to previous years, the invitation list is usually based on the type of birthday celebration I was going to have. Based on the location, I knew my invitation list would be small or possibly non existent; I’d be fine regardless of the list. For some reason though, the list has consistently gotten smaller as the years go by. This, I didn’t take notice of until my 20eighth birthday. I reached out to my friends to let them know what my plans were. I had knowledge of their schedules so I knew who would give me an affirmative answer. Just as I anticipated, the invitation list went down to one friend. I was lucky enough to have invited a friend that also planned on going to Shirakawa-go. Everything was falling into place.
Cake or Cupcake
The one constant each year of my birthday is always a cake or sometimes cupcakes – or sometimes both. This year, I wanted a white cake. I wanted the sponge to be white, the buttercream filling to be white (maybe a white chocolate buttercream ganache), the frosting to be snow white, even the decorations. I had a specific idea that I needed to be executed exactly, but there was a slight problem. My patisserie left Japan last summer for a new life in Europe. Insert crying emoji here. How was I going to have the perfect cake made when basically every cake shop in Japan sells cakes with fruit on and in them. I have no issues with those type of cakes but those aren’t birthday cakes and that is a hill I’m willing to die on. Knocks on wood because I’m not ready – no one ever is but you know what I mean.
Panic filled my veins. I didn’t know what I was going to do. My coworker looked at me in amazement and confusion. “Mate, it’s just cake. Don’t tell me you’re going to cry over cake.” Only, it wasn’t just cake. This was vital piece of my birthday celebration, probably the most important to be honest. After realising the severity of the cake situation (this was a situation!), my coworker hit up Reddit for suggestions. (In my Soulja Boy voice) Redddddddddit!? Let me tell you! Within minutes of making the post, suggestions started coming in. I was impressed. The tears went away. Yes, I was on the verge of literal tears. Sadly, none of the suggestions helped, so I took matters into my own hands. Mission ‘Find Keirn A Cake’ was a go.
I search high and low for a cake shop but to no avail, so I made the executive decision to purchase six cupcake. I was sad but the cupcakes would still work with my fantasy. Hey, Valentina! I found a cupcake shop and was on my way there when I stumbled upon the smallest cake shop I’d ever seen. It reminded me of my shoemaker’s when I was in primary school. Anyways, I asked the patisserie if they could do what I wanted and as my luck would have it, she said Y E S. *Nae Naes* I placed my order and was told to pick up my cake in two days. It’s lit!
Pick up day arrived and I was oozing with excitement and anxiety. I couldn’t wait to see my winter wonderland inspired cake. The patisserie opened the cake box and I could’ve died right then and there. Okay, maybe I’m being too dramatic. I paid for the service, smiled and went home with my cake. At home, I peeped into the box again because I must’ve not been seeing right the first time. Tell me why my winter wonderland cake turned into a chocolate and caramel ‘masterpiece’? It was a masterpiece but that wasn’t what I wanted. Sigh. Luckily for her, I love chocolate and caramel, so this cake was going to be the new fantasy.
A Look With A Cause
The birthday fit! Every birthday represents something different for me and this 31st was no exception. Apart from me trying to be funny with the whole ‘ThirtyWon‘ bit (only like two people know how funny this is to me – still working on it), I needed to ensure that my birthday look(s) was(were) perfect – for me. Last year, I raised money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for my birthday (check out my podcast and youtube to find out why) and this year, I decided to support Polished Man, more publicly. Polished Man was introduced to me through Craig Conover of Bravo TV’s Southern Charm. This is an organisation that works towards ending violence against children. The symbol, wear a painted nail (or two, or three haha) to spark conversation and draw in support. (Link to my actual donation kickstarter here). Please donate to Polished Man. It would me so much to me if you help me raise 2000USD for this charity.
Since I was going to be leaving work and head straight into the birthday weekend, I made sure it was super easy for me to change into my travel outfit. I went for a pastel colour palette with the main colour being pink. If you had told me years ago that I would love wearing pink, I’d have called you a liar. I painted three nails to go with my look because why not? LOL.
After arriving in Takayama, my friend and I toured the city a little bit on rent bikes, made silly videos on Snapchat and then went for dinner. Seeing as the weekend was about me, I changed into something more birthday dinner appropriate. I chose to wear all white with a khaki blazer to add some colour to the ensemble.
We found a cute French restaurant called Bistro Kanzo which served the most delicious food so far in Takayama. I had called ahead and made reservations as well as inform the owners that it was my birthday. See, I don’t mind planning my own birthday because I will still be surprised. We went back to the hotel, I got my cake from my room (yes, I brought my cake with me) and did the whole candle blowing bit – even in a pandemic. LOL.
The next day we checked out of the hotel and were ready for the day’s adventure. The journey to Shirakawa-go was smooth. The further up we went, the more snowy it became. The fantasy was now real. We were met with inches on snow on arrival but unfortunately it wasn’t fresh. Cameras came out and the photoshoot began. I decided to wear the khaki blazer again but this time I paired it with the pants that it came with. I made it into a more casual look by wearing sneakers and a baseball cap. You’re probably thinking that this wasn’t an appropriate look for the environment I was in but I love the contrast between a look and the background. I blame the many years I watched ANTM for this. Haha! The walking tour in Shirakawa-go takes about 3 hours but we were there for about 5. I was in awe of the houses and other buildings. I kept asking myself “how do they stay warm on the inside when the snow is still stuck on the roofs?”
This was by far one of the better trips I’ve had in Japan and I wish I could say more but I think it’s time to wrap things up. I love my birthday. It’s one of the best times in any year for me. Thank you to everyone for the love.