How to Say Happy Birthday in Japanese and Celebrate Like a Native

If you have a Japanese friend or acquaintance who is celebrating their birthday, you might want to greet them with a heartfelt message in their native language. But how do you say happy birthday in Japanese? And what are some of the customs and traditions that surround this special occasion?

In this blog post, we will teach you seven ways to say happy birthday in Japanese, from casual to formal, slang to abbreviated, and more. We will also share some cultural tidbits and etiquette tips for birthday celebrations in Japan.

7 Ways to Say Happy Birthday in Japanese

  1. Otanjoubi omedetou — Happy birthday (casual)

Japanese: お誕生日おめでとう (おたんじょうびおめでとう)

This is the most common, one-size-fits-all way to say “Happy Birthday” in Japanese. If you’re a good friend or family member of the person turning a year older, you can save yourself a few syllables and leave off gozaimasu, or even the “o” in otanjoubi. This phrase implies a more casual, familiar vibe between the speaker and the listener.

Otanjoubi omedetou. Paatii o tanoshimi kudasai. — Happy birthday. Enjoy your party.

Japanese: お誕生日おめでとう。 パーティーをお楽しみください。 (おたんじょうびおめでとう。 ぱーてぃーおたのしみください。 )

  1. Otanjoubi omedetou gozaimasu — Happy birthday (formal)

Japanese: お誕生日おめでとうございます (おたんじょうびおめでとうございます)

This phrase is the most polite way to give someone well wishes on their birthday. It’s a form of keigo, 敬語(けいご)— polite speech, a cornerstone of speaking the Japanese language. This is a good option if you don’t know the person very well or if you want to show them respect.

Yamada-san, otanjoubi omedetou gosaimasu. Korekara mo Genki de ite kudasai. — Happy birthday, Mr. Yamada. Please continue to stay healthy.

Japanese: 山田さん、お誕生日おめでとうございます。 これからも元気でいてください。 (やまださん、おたんじょうびおめでとうございます。 これからもげんきでいてください。 )

  1. Ota ome — Happy birthday (abbreviated slang)

Japanese: おたおめ

You may have noticed that the more formal a phrase is, the longer it becomes, as polite speech is added on to it. The reverse is also true! Shortening otanjoubi omedetou, you get the super-snappy ota ome. This version of “happy birthday” is slang that’s used only in very casual settings, especially online, and is generally used more by the younger generation.

Ossu! Ota Ome! Nomi ni ikou. — Hey man! Happy birthday! Let’s go out for drinks.

Japanese: おっす! おたおめ! 飲みに行こう。 (おっす! おたおめ! のみにいこう。 )

  1. Tanjoubi omedetou — Happy Xth birthday

Japanese: 誕生日おめでとう (たんじょうびおめでとう)

If you want to specify how old someone is turning on their birthday, you can use this phrase and add the number before it. For example, if someone is turning 20 years old, you can say:

Hatachi no tanjoubi omedetou — Happy 20th birthday

Japanese: 二十歳の誕生日おめでとう (はたちのたんじょうびおめでとう)

Here are some common numbers that you might need to know:

10 – juu (十)
20 – hatachi (二十歳)
30 – sanjuu (三十)
40 – yonjuu (四十)
50 – gojuu (五十)
60 – rokujuu (六十)
70 – nanajuu (七十)
80 – hachijuu (八十)
90 – kyuujuu (九十)
100 – hyaku (百)

  1. Happii baasudee — Happy birthday

Japanese: ハッピーバースデー

This is another casual way to say happy birthday in Japanese, especially among young people. It is basically just a collection of Japanese syllables that sounds like “happy birthday” in English. You can use this phrase by itself or add the person’s name before it.

Happii baasudee, Sakura-chan! — Happy birthday, Sakura!

Japanese: ハッピーバースデー、さくらちゃん!

  1. Osoku nattakedo, otanjoubi omedetou! — Happy belated birthday!

Japanese: 遅くなったけど、お誕生日おめでとう! (おそくなったけど、おたんじょうびおめでとう!)

If you missed someone’s birthday and want to apologize for being late, you can use this phrase. It literally means “It became late, but happy birthday!” You can also add gomen ne (ごめんね) or sumimasen (すみません) at the beginning to say “sorry” or “excuse me”.

Gomen ne, osoku nattakedo, otanjoubi omedetou! — Sorry, happy belated birthday!

Japanese: ごめんね、遅くなったけど、お誕生日おめでとう!

  1. Suteki na ichinen ni narimasu youni — I hope this will be a wonderful year

Japanese: 素敵な一年になりますように (すてきないちねんになりますように)

This is a common phrase that you can add to your birthday message to wish someone all the best for the coming year. It literally means “May it become a wonderful year”. You can also change the adjective suteki (素敵) to something else, such as shiawase (幸せ) for “happy”, tanoshii (楽しい) for “fun”, or genki (元気) for “healthy”.

Otanjoubi omedetou! Shiawase na ichinen ni narimasu youni. — Happy birthday! I hope this will be a happy year.

Japanese: お誕生日おめでとう! 幸せな一年になりますように。 (おたんじょうびおめでとう! しあわせないちねんになりますように。 )

How to Celebrate Birthday in Japan

Now that you know how to say happy birthday in Japanese, you might also want to learn some of the customs and traditions that Japanese people follow on their birthdays.

Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Until the 1950s, all Japanese birthdays were celebrated over the new year. However, as Japanese culture became more influenced by Western culture, the idea of the individual birthday took on more significance. Nowadays, most Japanese people celebrate their birthdays on the actual day of their birth, but some still follow the old tradition of celebrating on January 1st.
  • The most important birthday in Japan is the first one, called issho mochi (一升餅), which means “one sho (a unit of measurement) of rice cake.” On this day, the baby is dressed in a kimono and carried to a Shinto shrine for a blessing ceremony. The baby is also given a large rice cake to hold, symbolizing a prosperous and healthy life.
  • Another important birthday in Japan is the 20th one, called seijin no hi (成人の日), which means “coming of age day.” On this day, young people who have turned 20 in the past year are officially recognized as adults and have the right to vote, drink alcohol, and smoke. They also wear traditional clothing, such as furisode (振袖) for women and hakama (袴) for men, and attend a ceremony at their local city hall.
  • The 60th birthday in Japan is called kanreki (還暦), which means “returning to the calendar.” It marks the completion of one cycle of the Chinese zodiac and the start of a new one. It’s considered a rebirth and a second childhood. The person celebrating their kanreki wears a red vest and hat, which are usually worn by babies, and receives gifts from their family and friends.
  • The 70th birthday in Japan is called koki (古希), which means “rare age.” It’s based on a Chinese poem that says “very few people live up to seventy years old.” The person celebrating their koki wears purple clothing and receives gifts of purple flowers or items.
  • The 77th birthday in Japan is called kiju (喜寿), which means “joyous age.” It’s based on the Chinese characters for seven and joy, which look similar. The person celebrating their kiju wears yellow clothing and receives gifts of yellow flowers or items.

In conclusion, saying “Happy Birthday” in different languages can be a fun and meaningful way to celebrate someone’s special day. Learning how to say it in Japanese can be an especially unique and thoughtful gesture. By using one of these seven phrases, you can show your Japanese-speaking loved one that you care enough to learn and use their language. Whether you choose to say “Otanjoubi omedetou gozaimasu” or another phrase, your effort will not go unnoticed and is sure to make their birthday even more special.