Ever wondered what to do when celebrating your birthday in Japan? Or how the Japanese celebrate birthdays? Or most importantly – how to say ‘happy birthday’ in Japanese? We’ve got you covered!
Up until the 1950s, celebrating birthdays in Japan was not customary. In fact, they considered every new year a common birthday for everyone!
In modern times, as the Japanese adapted a few Western customs and holidays, birthdays are now celebrated. Because of Japan’s lack of early birthday customs, the birthday song is sung in English.
Here are some examples of ways to say ‘happy birthday’ in Japanese, plus a few fun facts about Japanese birthdays!
- 1 How to say happy birthday in Japanese
- 2 How do Japanese people celebrate birthdays?
- 3 Gift-giving on Japanese birthdays
- 4 Special birthdays in Japan
How to say happy birthday in Japanese
There are many ways to wish your friends, family, and even coworkers a happy birthday in Japanese! You can use them in a conversation or even as a message in a birthday card.
Here are a few Japanese birthday wishes to try.
Otanjoubi omedetou gozaimasu
お たんじょうび おめでとう ございます
Happy birthday (polite)
The word for ‘birthday’ in Japanese is tanjoubi (誕生日 / たんじょうび). Omedetou (おめでとう) means ‘congratulations’ or ‘best wishes’.
You might notice that there is a slight difference in how tanjoubi is used here: in Japanese grammar, there is a concept called ‘polite speech’ or keigo (敬語 / けいご). One way to make a native Japanese noun polite is to add an ‘o’ (お) before it, just like in o-tanjoubi (お誕生日 / おたんじょうび).
The ‘o’ is called an ‘honorific prefix’, and you can learn more it here.
Gozaimasu (ございます) is basically a very polite version of the verb ‘to be’. Here it is used to make your greeting even more respectful!
Using the greeting this way is appropriate for most people, but for people you are closer to, you might like to use one of the following, less formal, variations:
- Otanjoubi omedetou (お誕生日おめでとう / おたんじょうびおめでとう) – polite (but slightly less formal than the full version, otanjoubi omedetou gozaimasu)
- Tanjoubi omedetou (誕生日おめでとう / たんじょうびおめでとう) – casual, to be used with friends
Happy birthday (casual)
This greeting is an English loan word, which is why it is written in the Japanese script called katakana! Happii basudee is pronounced with a Japanese accent and is an extremely casual way to greet your friends and family on their birthday.
Suteki na ichinichi wo
すてきな いちにち を
I hope you have a wonderful day
This is one way to express your kind wishes to a birthday celebrant! Suteki na ichinichi wo can be used among friends, family and even co-workers.
Suteki na (素敵な / すてきな) is an adjective that translates to ‘lovely’ or ‘wonderful’. Meanwhile, ichinichi (一日 / いちにち) means ‘one whole day’.
Suteki na otanjoubi wo sugoshite kudasai
すてきな おたんじょうび を すごして ください
I hope you have a great birthday
Sugoshite kudasai means ‘please spend’. The phrase translates to “Please spend / please have a great/wonderful birthday”!
You can replace suteki na with other adjectives, such as tanoshii (楽しい / たのしい), which means ‘fun’!
Subarashii ichinen ni narimasu you ni
すばらしい いちねん に なります ように
I wish you a wonderful year ahead
This one is a bit more formal than the previous phrase, so it is appropriate to use this one in the workplace.
Subarashii (素晴らしい / すばらしい) is another word that translates to ‘wonderful’ while ichinen (一年 / いちねん) means ‘one year’.
Kore kara mo douzo ogenki de ite kudasai
これから も どうぞ お げんき で いて ください
Please stay healthy from now on
Being healthy and happy doesn’t end at the last second of someone’s birthday. To wish someone to continue being healthy after their special day, this is another thoughtful phrase you can use!
Kore kara mo (これからも) translates to ‘even after this’. Douzo (どうぞ) means ‘please’ or ‘kindly’.
How do Japanese people celebrate birthdays?
In some cultures, the birthday celebrant must treat the guests on their special day, but in Japan, it’s more common to see friends or family plan and prepare for someone’s birthday party!
Couples usually spend their birthday with their partner. Sweet, right? For families, especially for young children, parents take care of the party planning, decorations, food, and gifts. Like most kids’ birthday parties, classmates and friends are also invited.
Restaurants also offer free gifts or saabisu (サービス) for customers who come and dine on their birthday, usually in the form of desserts.
Gift-giving on Japanese birthdays
Gifts aren’t usually expected unless you are a celebrant’s close family member or friend, however, it doesn’t mean it’s not welcome! Japanese gift-giving customs can get tricky sometimes but the most popular gifts on birthdays are sweets, food (especially cake!), and little trinkets.
Birthday cards are also a popular, simple gift you can give someone with a heartfelt message inside. Nowadays, people mostly send their birthday wishes through text messages, chat apps, or calls.
Special birthdays in Japan
Japan has a unique way of celebrating birthdays, especially those considered as ‘milestone birthdays’! What are some examples of special birthdays?
Shichi-go-san (ages 3, 5, and 7)
Shichi-go-san (七五三 / しちごさん) translates to 7-5-3. It is a special holiday for children aged 3, 5, and 7. This is celebrated every November 15th (add up 3, 5, and 7!) and is an occasion to wish longevity.
In the past, there was a higher risk that children would die at an early age because of poverty or hunger, so parents would pray at shrines for their children to live long lives.
Every shichi-go-san, boys wear traditional Japanese clothing such as hakama or haori and girls wear kimono, plus some accessories and even make-up! The parents take their kids to a shrine to pray for their children’s health and safety.
Special candy called chitose ame (千歳飴 / ちとせあめ) are given to children. The candies are long and thin, signifying the longevity of life.
Check out this video by JapanesePod101 to know more about shichi-go-san!
Seijinshiki (age 20)
Seijinshiki (成人式 / せいじんしき) is a coming-of-age celebration for all young people aged 20! This is celebrated every second Monday of January. It used to be celebrated every January 15th, but this date made it difficult for people to back to their hometown to celebrate, so moving it to a Monday gave people more time to go home over the weekend.
Seijin (成人) means ‘adult’ or ‘grown-up’ and shiki (式) means ‘ceremony’. On this day, 20-year-old men dress up in suits or hakama, while women wear kimono (typically furisode, a type of kimono with long sleeves, usually worn by unmarried women).
The age of 20 is significant because it is the legal age at which individuals are allowed to vote, drive, drink, and smoke. Celebrants gather at their respective city halls for a ceremony, then visit shrines afterward. They may have parties or reunions at the end of the day, where they can finally drink together. Kanpai!
Celebrations for the elderly (ages 60 and above)
Lastly, there are several different special birthdays for the elderly.
The 60th birthday or kanreki (還暦 / かんれき) is particularly important. This culminates five full cycles of the Chinese zodiac, a time in which a person is said to be ‘reborn’.
The colors red and white are often used during kanreki. For example, a sleeveless red jacket called the chanchanko (ちゃんちゃんこ) is worn to represent a baby’s jacket and a person’s rebirth. White cranes and red turtles are also placed on top of cakes used for this occasion. White cranes symbolize 1,000 years and red turtles for 10,000 years!
Other ages celebrated include the ‘double-digit’ ages.
The 77th birthday or kiju (喜寿 / きじゅ), also called the ‘happy age’! In earlier Japanese calligraphy, the kanji for ki 喜 (which means ‘rejoice’) was written in a way that looks like two sevens (七七) were inside the character!
The 88th birthday or beiju (米寿 / べいじゅ) is also called the ‘rice age’. The character for ‘rice’ is bei or kome (米) and it looks like the kanji for eight-ten-eight (八十八).
The 99th birthday or hakuju (白寿 / はくじゅ) is called the ‘white age’. The character for white is haku or shiro (白) and it looks like hyaku (百), the kanji for ‘one hundred’, but without the stroke on top! The stroke is also a standalone radical ichi (一) which means ‘one’.
So now you know all about how to celebrate birthdays in Japan. If you’re ready to continue your Japanese language journey, our recommended online course is JapanesePod101!
JapanesePod101 offers a complete system for learning Japanese at any level, from total beginners to advanced. The self-paced courses include audio lessons, printable worksheets, learning tools (such as quizzes and flashcards), and lots more.
JapanesePod101 are currently offering FULL access to the Absolute Beginner Course (90+ audio lessons!), absolutely free.
Thea is a freelance content writer, currently majoring in Japanese studies. She likes to create art and draws inspiration from film and music. Thea was inspired to study Japanese language and culture by reading the literary works of Haruki Murakami and Edogawa Ranpo.