“Happy Birthday!”I said, handing my girlfriend, Akemi, her presents.  Then, as she reached for them, I pulled them back.  “You’ll have to wait until Monday to open them.”  And I set them aside.

It was a sad cap to a disappointing birthday weekend that saw our planned Saturday Afternoon Picnic Lunch in the Park to Check Out the Cherry Blossoms go the way of that promised Sunday Afternoon Couples Pottery Class.  Now before you criticize, I feel the need to point out that neither missed opportunities were my fault.  Fortune conspired against us.  Or maybe it was the squid ink risotto. Whatever.  One or the other had Akemi waking up feeling nauseous and dizzy Saturday morning, forcing us to cancel our picnic.  In retrospect, it may have worked out for the best.  We’d failed to locate either a picnic basket or sitting blanket and, by all accounts, the cherry blossoms aren’t even in bloom yet.

“Okay,”said Akemi, throwing a quick glance to her birthday gifts before swinging focus to the task at hand – prepping the dogs for our Sunday outing.  “But you have to wrap them for me.”

Damnit!  Next to driving around looking for parking and fielding Candy Crush invitations, there’s nothing I hate more than wrapping presents.  BUT it was her birthday and even convincing her to let me buy her a new iPad to replace her laboring 5+ year old existing model had been a task and a half.  Unlike myself, Akemi is incredibly low maintenance.  She generally refuses to let me buy her anything, preferring instead to wear the same jacket she brought with her from Tokyo seven years ago, the same dilapidated running shoes she’s been sporting for years.  Despite my insistence, my observation that uninformed passersbys might assume I was dating an escaped mental patient, she has stuck to her guns.  Until her iPad starting crashing at which point she knew – it was time.  Time for a NEW iPad.  AND one of those special pencils for scratching up the screen!

I was able to find some wrapping paper in the back of the upstairs closet and put my little used but unquestionably awesome wrapping skills to good use.  And…voila!

April 19, 2016: Akemi’s Birthday Bash!

Pretty impressive, no?  Maybe in my twilight years, I’ll retire to Japan and become one of those professional gift-wrappers.

When Monday rolled around, we celebrated by my getting to set for 7:00 a.m. call, but cutting out a little early (Thanks to Ivon covering for me on set!) so I could put the rest of my plan in motion.

Akemi is a big fan of chouquettes.  They’re basically creamless creampuffs studded with sugar granules (that she likes to pick off before eating).  She used to buy them in bunches, ten at a time, at a nearby patisserie until sometime late last year when the chouquettes found themselves off the menu along, apparently, with their then pastry chef.  I checked online and discovered this place –


I called in and they were kind enough to satisfy my request for 100 chouquettes.  I picked them up on my way home and then surprised Akemi.  Note her trademark Akemi-esque excitement:

After inhaling a half dozen delicious chouquettes, Akemi changed and then it was off to her favorite sushi restaurant, Yasu, for dinner.   Yasu sources its fish from all over (Hokkaido, Portugal, Vancouver, Greece!) and offers a very Japanese counter-style omakase dining experience.  Omakase basically means “chef’s choice”.  It’s sort of like that time in early high school when a bunch of us went to my friend Nick’s place for a barbecue.  After soliciting our requests, Nick poked his head out to the backyard where his mom was manning the grill and informed her: “We’ve got orders for two medium-rares, two mediums, and one well done!”.  His mother’s voice was shrill and laced with fury: “You’ll take ’em like you get ’em!”.  Nick ambled back to our table and, without missing a beat: “We’ll take ’em like we get ’em, guys!”.  So, yes.  Sort of like that time at Nick’s, except with fish instead of meat, more rice, and a lot less Dungeon & Dragons.

Anyway, some of the culinary highlights of the night:

April 19, 2016: Akemi’s Birthday Bash!

Firefly squid (hotaru-ika) – so-called because, well, here they are lighting up Toyama Bay:

April 19, 2016: Akemi’s Birthday Bash!


April 19, 2016: Akemi’s Birthday Bash!

Sea Urchin – one from Hokkaido (left), the other from Boston (right).

April 19, 2016: Akemi’s Birthday Bash!

I did the sake pairing and, of the ones I sampled, this – Wandering Poet – was my favorite.  The little blurb on the label reads: “The poet Rihaku would drink a big bottle of sake and write a hundred poems“.  I, on the other hand, could barely string two sentences together by night’s end.

We returned home where I presented Akemi with not one but TWO glorious birthday cards – the first a pop-up card that played the Happy Birthday theme when opened, the second an inflatable green dinosaur card she actually picked up and gave me to give to her in the event I forgot to get one.

She went upstairs, I watched the season finale of Better Call Saul (or, as Akemi refers to it, Better Coleslaw), and then we called it a night on Akemi’s best birthday celebration ever!

Next year, that couples pottery class!

31 thoughts on “April 19, 2016: Akemi’s birthday bash!

  1. Sometimes the simple birthdays are the best birthdays. Looks & sounds like a great time. Oh, & my favorite jacket is my 12 year old motorcycle jacket. I say it just looks perfectly broken in, but that’s my opinion!

  2. Oh, Akemi! Happy, happy Birthday!
    I wish I knew how to up load pictures here for you, as I planted a Japanese flowering cherry tree last Friday and yesterday, Monday, it flowered – wonderful big, white, scented flowers.
    Happy Birthday Akemi 🎂 😊

  3. Happy Birthday Akemi! I’m low maintenance too – my other half keeps saying he’ll buy me a new iPad as my iPad 1 keeps crashing… nooooo I say….. when it finally pegs it (hopefully in a few years) then it can be replaced. I hope the furry children gave you a card and sloppy birthday kisses too xxx

  4. Many Happy Returns, Akemi 🎂

    It looks (and sounds) like you had a great time – kudos, Joe for making Akemi’s special day memorable 🎉

  5. Joe, I want you to give Akemi a big birthday hug for me and tell her Happy Birthday! She is definitely a keeper and you’re a lucky man to have her in your life.

    Those light up squid are cool! I admit they look prettier in the ocean than they do on the plate.

    Those chouquettes look delicious, but isn’t 100 quite a few to finish before they’re stale? Not that I wouldn’t try.

  6. Akemi: Happy Birthday! Hope the transition to the new iPad goes smoothly!

    That new iOS update nearly killed my iPad2. You remind me of my hubby “Let me get you a new iPad!” I was like “let me see if I can get it working”. It took a few hours but I got everything restored except for my notes/pictures. I thought I made a complete back up on the iCloud but… Oh well. It’s still working.

    Firefly squid? Pretty both ways. The restaurant didn’t sound too bad. AND you can celebrate all through the year. Why limit it to one night/weekend?

  7. A very happy birthday to Akemi. If it was up to me and my brother we would hand people their gifts in the bag we got from the story. Neither of us are big on wrapping presents. At least the penguins are adorable.

  8. Happy Birthday Akemi!!!! And many more!! Joe you are so nice, you are a keeper too, haha.

  9. Happy Birthday to one of the better and most entertaining aspects of your blog and life – Akemi! Certainly the most beautiful.

    Sounds like a great birthday! (I would have been happy with the 100 chouquettes alone.)

  10. Ah, if i only I had a ‘better half’, I could get him to read your blog post for some ideas, but sadly, still waiting to meet an intelligent man. Happy Birthday Akemi

  11. Wrapping paper knows no boundaries. Perfect! Glad Akemi felt better to enjoy an evening out & with sushi no less. Looks yummy though I typically like my squid in calamari form with a lemon pepper dipping sauce. Wishing Akemi a belated Happy Birthday!

  12. Happy birthday, Akemi! I don’t need or want much either – it drives my husband crazy. It sounds like an excellent day and may there be many more.

  13. I do like the gift wrapping (best not let things go to waist). Oh Happy Birthday to Akemi! I was wondering why the cherry blossoms in Ueno park were looking exceptionally pretty this weekend. Guess I thought you has a better weekend from the “company” picnic than you did. Pictures of the squid both are great.
    Best to leave the raw food stuffs to Japanese cuisine. “Fresh” crab in papaya salad has its own affects even for Thais. I did warn her.

    iPad is marvelous tool, especially for those long hall flights. You can down load shows like SGU and Better Call Saul-a really good show or Boardwalk Empire. With your brief mention of Archer, I have down loaded it and became a fan. It is racy, raunchy, and sophomoric, but no low intelligent dads or children.

    If you ever get around to it I would like to hear more of your sake experience. Of the many times I pass through NRT/HND I have wanted to but not purchased any of the sake at the duty free store as my understanding is near zero. With you knowledge I may be willing to purchase and compare.
    Hope you and Akemi have a great week. Fingers crossed as you come to close on Season 2 production.

  14. Happy Birthday, Akemi !!
    The cherry blossoms are almost finished here, but they have been beautiful !

  15. 🎉🎉🎉Happy birthday Akemi!!!!!🎉🎉🎉
    The food looks delicious… 10 points for the wrapping Joe.

    I love your pug singlet Akemi. ❤️

    Hope you’re loving your new iPad. So many new apps you can download. Some of my favourites – PicJointer for collages, Phonto for memes, Blitz (which is really just Bejewelled, aka Original Candy Crush) and Lumosity.

    Cheers, Chev

  16. A Very Happy Birthday to the ever sweet, beautiful, Akemi.
    With Hugs, Love and Many Thanks for all the wonderful videos
    that always make me smile and laugh.

    <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

  17. Happy Birthday Akemi! And many more!

    That sushi dinner looked wonderful and the squid looked interesting, although I do have a “thing” about my food staring at me. It wouldn’t stop me from trying it though.

    On wrapping, yes, I consider it a chore too but being an engineer I feel I must do it well (are all engineers OCD? Probably…) As a result, my wrapped presents are always the neatest (if I’m feeling particularly OCD I’ll even fold over the joins and hide the tape lines). The rest of the family? Well, let’s just say it varies and leave it at that.

    And I’m traveling again (no surprise there). Today I’m in northern Virginia at a customer, but tonight I’ll be taking my son to an Orioles game at Camden Yards. I hope you don’t mind me saying that I hope we beat the Blue Jays (unlike last night). If they televise the game there, look for me in row D behind first base…I’ll be wearing a number 8 Cal Ripkin jersey and an old style (not the cartoon bird) baseball cap.

    Next year, that couples pottery class!

    For some reason that makes me think of Patrick Swayze…

  18. Happy Birthday to Akemi! I hope you have a wonderful year filled with many blessings. Seeing your pictures and videos always brings a smile to my day. 🙂

  19. I popped onto Akemi’s FB page her birthday day to wish her a happy one. It sounds like you guys enjoyed the best birthday bash you could under the circumstances of a stressful production. I don’t know how both of you keep so thin keeping all that food. You should bottle it because I’d buy it.

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