It’s celebration time!
Put on your party hat and go wish someone a happy birthday—in Japanese!
…But wait a minute, are you sure you know how to?
Japanese is a language that places emphasis on relationships and politeness.
That means you can’t just take the easy way out and solely rely on loan words to fill in your knowledge gaps. There are different ways to express your joy for someone turning a year older.
And today, you’re going to uncover them!
When I interned at a Japanese company in Tokyo, my boss received many, many gifts from other companies for his birthday.
Needless to say, we used many celebratory phrases and words.
If you’re worried about giving birthday wishes politely, this post has got you covered!
How Birthdays Are Celebrated in Japan
Just like in English, it can be a bit too straightforward to ask for someone’s age on their birthday.
But you can definitely ask about their birthday wishes!
Because of customs like this, it’s extremely important you understand basic cultural etiquette before attending a Japanese birthday party.
So before we dive into the simple phrases you want to add to your “cool things to say in Japanese” box, let’s first take a look at how birthdays are celebrated in Japan.
Don’t Touch Someone Else’s Gifts
Here’s a word of advice: don’t touch or open someone else’s gift like I almost did for my boss.
That’s a worldwide no-no!
But let’s say you aren’t attending a party or social gathering in honor of the special birthday person. Instead, you see them at work, school or another setting.
In this case, if you have a gift to offer the person, you should hand it to them properly.
In Japanese culture, you should always hand someone a gift with both hands and a slight bow. Don’t be surprised if the person rejects the gift once or twice, either. This is just a way of being humble and polite.
Just like how you gave the gift with both hands and a bow, eventually, your Japanese colleague or friend will also receive the give with both hands a slight bow.
Birthdays Change as You Get Older
As a child, your parents will throw a party for you. As you get older though, different people of importance in your life will start to take charge.
For example: in high school, if a young 少年（しょうねん）— “male” has a girlfriend, he’d be the one to take her out for her birthday.
And if you’re single, your friends are more likely to take you out or throw a birthday bash to honor you.
Special Birthdays in Japanese Culture
In Japan, you’re considered an adult when you turn 20. It’s also the age you can start to legally drink alcohol and are allowed to vote.
So it only makes sense that someone’s twentieth birthday causes for a big celebration.
Your sixteenth birthday is also a big one, though. When a person turns 16, the five cycles of the Chinese zodiac are completed. The person is then considered “reborn.”
The last birthdays to be hyper-aware about are the 77th birthday, 88th and the 99th.
When someone turns 77 in Japan, they’ve reached the “happy age.” The 88th birthday is the “rice age,” and the 99th birthday is considered the “white age.”
“Happy Birthday” in Japanese: Your Guide to Celebrating Like a Native
Since you’re now equipped with the cultural knowledge you need regarding birthdays in Japan, let’s get into the fun stuff.
Below you’ll find all the vocabulary you need for saying “happy birthday” in Japanese the right way!
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）— Happy Birthday (Formal)!
Maybe you’re already familiar with 敬語（けいご）— “polite speech,” a cornerstone of speaking the Japanese language.
This phrase is the most polite way to give someone well wishes on their birthday!
Plus, it’s great to use if you don’t know the person very well.
You may also notice the honorific prefix お for the word 誕生日（たんじょうび）— “birthday.”
This is known as 美化語（びかご）— “Japanese elegant speech.”
Depending on the word, removing this honorific prefix may sound impolite or just plain off. So to be safe, it’s best to leave the prefix and the word together.
お誕生日おめでとう（おたんじょうびおめでとう）— Happy Birthday (Casual)!
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 ございます or even the お in 誕生日（たんじょうび）— “birthday.”
This just gives a more casual, familiar vibe between the speaker and the listener.
ハッピーバースデー（はっぴーばーすでー）！— Happy Birthday!
Given how loan words are fairly common in the Japanese language, this one shouldn’t be much of a surprise!
You can even mix and match and say, ハッピーお誕生日（はっぴーおたんじょうび）— Happy Birthday!
And of course, the happy birthday song in Japanese might be easier to sing than you think!
Must-know Birthday Vocabulary in Japanese
Okay, you now officially have three different ways to say happy birthday in Japanese under your belt.
Now, why don’t you pick up some extra words?
Essential Words and Phrases for Every Birthday Celebration
How old are you?
You look young for your age!
素敵なお誕生日をすごしてください！（すてきなたんじょうびをすごしてください）— Have a Great Birthday!
For fun, you can replace the word 素敵な（すてきな）— “great,” with any other positive word that you can think of! Just make sure you follow the rules for adjectives in Japanese.
つまらないものですが — Just a Little Something for You
This is a humble phrase to use when giving someone a gift. When your recipient thanks you, simply respond with とんでもございません — it’s nothing!
And remember to always hand someone a gift with both hands and a slight bow, like we mentioned earlier!
は〜い！〇〇さんのためのプレゼントです！（は〜い！〇〇さんのためのぷれぜんとです！）— Here You Go! A Present for 〇〇-san.
The さん (san) suffix is used to denote politeness and respect towards a person. You can also use ちゃん (chan) or 君 (くん — kun) for people you’re more familiar with.
But for people you might not know very well, I’d highly recommend using さん.
お誕生日の願いが叶いますように！（おたんじょうびのねがいがかないますように！) — Here’s to Your Birthday Wishes Coming True!
Who doesn’t love making wishes on their birthday? Now you can make sure that somebody’s wishes will come true!
お誕生日予定はありますか？（おたんじょうびのよていはありますか？）— Do You Have any Plans for Your Birthday?
Hint, hint: This is a super helpful phrase for asking someone out on a date!
Or if you’re just looking to hang with someone on their special day.
And there you have it—your all-in-one guide for celebrating birthdays in Japan and using different, colorful expressions for saying “happy birthday” in Japanese!
So the next time you go to Japan, or when your Japanese language exchange partner’s special day approaches, pick from your new collection of phrases wisely.
And see your Japanese skills (and cultural understanding) skyrocket!
This post was co-authored by Hannah Rowntree.