Easiest DIY Birthday Party for Little Travelers? Japanese Origami!

Origami Party Time
Origami Party Time, by Florence Temko

When our daughter was seven or eight we spent several days in San Francisco.

The city is perfect for a family vacation because there is tons of fun stuff for kids.

We spent a full day at Exploratorium, visited the penguins at the California Academy of Sciences, saw the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, boarded ships at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Parkand played the games at Musee Mechanique at Fisherman’s Wharf.   

We stayed in a wonderful old hotel in the heart of San Francisco that we got on Priceline for $32 a night.

Our hotel was several blocks from Japantown, and we ventured there a couple of times for sushi and sukiyaki.  Japantown in San Francisco is much less touristy than Chinatown.  

Dinner in Japantown
My Family in Japantown

There is a mall, the Japan Center, with a large bookstore, many restaurants, some boutiques, and a discount store with imported goods.  The surrounding area is several blocks of residences, restaurants, and the Miyako hotel, as well as a Japanese market, a hardware store, and other shops.  

This is the neighborhood to shop for manga and Hello Kitty merchandise!

One of the shops we visited was a stationery store, The Paper Tree,  that had a large selection of origami papers and books.  The Paper Tree is a family business, and the owner’s daughters are origami artists.

Origami Stars
Origami Stars

We must have spent two hours in that shop.

They sell origami books and all manner of origami paper, including the beautiful handmade washi paper.  One of the daughters showed us how to fold tiny origami stars from paper strips, and we picked up some beautiful origami paper and stationery to bring home.

A DIY Japanese Origami Birthday Party

When it came time to plan our daughter’s birthday party, she chose a Japanese theme.

Fishing4Deals is a travel and bargain blog but one of my most popular posts ever was the article I wrote about how to host a DIY birthday party with an airplane theme.

Travel was a common thread in many of the home birthday parties we organized for our daughter — so I thought I would share a party plan for a DIY Japanese Origami party.

Koi windsock
Koi windsock

All of our DIY birthday parties followed the same basic plan, but this birthday party was the easiest ever.  No fuss, no muss, and very little expense — just a few packs of origami paper!

Here is an easy ten-step guide to planning an over-the-top Japanese origami birthday party. You can pick and choose from these ideas and adapt the party depending on the age of your child.

Hello Kitty Paper Lanterns
Hello Kitty Paper Lanterns

1. Invitations:  The invitation sets the tone for the party. An origami cootie catcher with the details about the party would be easy and fun!  If you want some other ideas, consider Origami Party Time! by famed origami artist Florence Temko.

Lantern Centerpiece
Lantern Centerpiece

2. Decorations:  It’s great to involve kids in planning the party, and making the decorations is a good first step!  My daughter and her friend spent many afternoons folding tiny origami stars. They learned how to fold little paper boxes, that we filled with rice crackers and used for table decorations.  Paper cranes are also vey popular!

There are lots of other inexpensive options for decorations:

Easy Origami Mini Book
Easy Origami Mini Book

3. Costumes:  Costumes are always fun at a birthday party.  I wore a vintage yukata. My daughter had received beautiful silk kimono that my sister-in-law picked up in Japan.  It’s fun to take pictures of each child in a kimono to send out with the thank you notes.  Alternately, a cheap parasol would do the trick.  Another idea is to fold paper hats from newspaper.

Temporary Tatoos
Temporary Tatoos

4. Warm up activities:  We like to welcome each guest with the offer of a temporary tattoo.  I like these Koi tattoos from Dover Publications, or these Japanese Character tattoos.  You can’t go wrong at $1.35 per 5-8.  Kids love these!  While you are waiting for all the guests to arrive, kids can keep busy by decorating paper fans like these.

5.  Craft:  The origami is the main party activity.  I found a terrific instructional video for children in the public library.  The video was kind of atmospheric, presenting origami as an ancient art.  We showed the video at the party, and the kids followed along, making several projects.  The kids really got in to it!

Story-Gami
Story-Gami

Have you heard of Storygami!  The origami artist tells a fable about an animal as he demonstrates the folding.  Here is a link to Storygami artist Sanny Ang on YouTube.

You can buy 500 sheets of quality origami paper for $17.00, and probably much less.  There are all kinds of papers with preprinted instructions nowadays.  We also got some fancy Washi paper which I love!

6.  Music:  You might like some atmospheric music, perhaps some JPop, or something more traditional?  We got a gong, just for the fun of it!

7. Games:  Traditional party games can easily be adapted to the origami theme.Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 11.24.36 AM

  • Make origami frogs and have a frog jumping race
  • Play “Samauri Says” do this!
  • For an outdoor activity, make and fly paper airplanes
  • Relay races can be great fun – maybe something with chopsticks to pick up and pass marshmallows?
  • Pin the stickers on the Kabuki face

    Plastic sushi trays
    Plastic sushi trays

8. Refreshments:  If you time the party for noon time, you will want to serve a light lunch.  Ramen noodle soup is something that most kids like. Gyoza (dumplings)  is another easy food.  California roll sushi is an option for older children.  You can find plastic sushi trays on Ebay.

Green Tea Kit Kat Candy
Green Tea Kit Kat Candy

Our party was mid-afternoon, so we just served light snacks.  Assorted rice crackers are perfect and we found all kinds of fun Japanese sweets and gummies in the Asian grocery store.  Kit Kat candy comes in all kinds of exotic flavors including green tea. You can often find mochi ice cream at Trader Joes.

Cupcakes are a popular alternative to a birthday cake.  You can top them with tiny paper cocktail umbrellas, or Hello Kitty cupcake toppers.

Candy Sushi
Candy Sushi
Found at: www.notmartha.org

I found a picture of candy sushi made with Swedish Fish on the internet — not something we tried but it looks great!

9.  Prizes and Goody Bags:  You have lots of things to choose from:

10. Thank You Notes:  A personalized touch is to include a picture of each kid posing in a kimono or with a parasol with the thank you notes.  

The origami theme allows for a lot of personalization depending on the interests of your child, so be creative!

Origami Jumping Frog
Origami Jumping Frog

Origami bugs, origami fish, origami dolls —  many other themes are possible.

Years later, neighborhood kids are still stopping by to borrow some origami paper.

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