happy birthday in Japanese

5 Ways to Say “Happy Birthday” in Japanese Like a Native Speaker

Put on your party hat and go wish someone a happy birthday—in Japanese!

If you’re worried about how to share your well wishes, this post has got you covered.

In this post, you’ll learn five ways to say “happy birthday” in Japanese, discover a few more important words and phrases for birthday wishes and learn some cultural tidbits that are a must for Japanese birthday celebrations!

Contents

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.

You may also notice the honorific prefix “o,” for the word otanjoubi (birthday). This is known as  bikago 美化語(びかご)—Japanese elegant speech.

In other words, this phrase is as formal as it gets!

Example:

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。)

2. 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)

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.

Example:

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。)

3. 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 seems to be true, too! 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.

Example:

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。)

4. 〇〇-sai no Otanjoubi Omedetou — Happy Xth Birthday

Japanese: 〇〇歳のお誕生日おめでとう。
(〇〇さいのおたんじょうびおめでとう。)

Is someone celebrating an important year? Or maybe you want to be more specific in your birthday wishes. In that case, use this phrase, which allows you to input the specific age someone is turning.

Note that although you’re technically counting in ordinal numbers (first, second, third… birthdays), you use the cardinal readings of Japanese numbers here (issai, nisai, sansai… no otanjoubi).

Example:

Jyuu hassai no o tanjoubi omedetou. Mou otona desu!— Happy 18th birthday. You’re an adult now!

Japanese: 18歳のお誕生日おめでとう。もう大人です!
(じゅうはっさいのおたんじょうびおめでとう。もうおとなです!)

5. Happii Baasudee — Happy Birthday

Japanese: ハッピーバースデー
(はっぴーばーすでー)

Given how loanwords are fairly common in the Japanese language, this one shouldn’t be much of a surprise! You can even mix and match and say, happii otanjoubi.

And, of course, the happy birthday song in Japanese might be easier to sing than you think!

Example:

Happii Baasudee tu yuu! —Happy birthday to you!

Japanese: ハッピーバースデー トゥーユー!
(はっぴーばーすでーとぅーゆー!)

Must-know Birthday Vocabulary in Japanese

You now have five different ways to say “happy birthday” in Japanese under your belt.

Now, why don’t you pick up some extra words? Here are some essential words, phrases and sentences to know to keep the celebrations going:

  • Tanjoubi Birthday

    Japanese: 誕生日 (たんじょうび)
  • Tanjoubi Keeki Birthday cake

    Japanese: 誕生日ケーキ (たんじょうびけーき)
  • Kanpai! Toasts!

    Japanese: 乾杯! (かんぱい!)
  • Nansai desu ka? How old are you?

    Japanese: 何歳ですか? (なんさいですか?)
  • Mada wakai desu ne or Heewaka sou desu ne You look young for your age!

    Japanese: まだ若いですね。(まだわかいですね。)or へー若そうですね。 (へーわかそうですね。)
  • Omedetou gozaimasu Congratulations

    Japanese: おめでとうございます。
  • Yatta! Yay!

    Japanese: やった!
  • Sutekina tanjoubi o sugoshite kudasai Have a great birthday!

    Japanese: 素敵なお誕生日を過ごしてください!(すてきなたんじょうびをすごしてください!)

    For fun, you can replace the word sutekina—great with any other positive word that you can think of! Just make sure you follow the rules for adjectives in Japanese.

  • Tsumawanai mono desu ga — Just a little something for you

    Japanese: つまらないものですが

    This is a humble phrase to use when giving someone a gift. When your recipient thanks you, simply respond with tondemo gozaimasen (とんでもございません) —it’s nothing!

  • Haaai! 〇〇-san no tameno puresento desu! Here you go! A present for 〇〇-san!

    Japanese: 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!)

    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.

  • Otanjoubi no negai ga kanaimasu youni Here’s to your birthday wishes coming true!

    Japanese: 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!)
  • Otanjoubi no yotei wa arimasu ka?  — Do you have any plans for your birthday?

    Japanese: 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?)

    Hint, hint: This is a super helpful phrase for asking someone out on a date!

You can pick up even more Japanese birthday vocabulary by consuming authentic Japanese media. For example, this adorable and wholesome clip from the anime “Mayo Chiki” will warm your heart and teach you a few more phrases you could use with your friends.

You can find hundreds more authentic Japanese clips on the language learning program, FluentU. This website- and app-based program uses real clips from native Japanese media to teach the language in a natural way.

The FluentU program makes it extra easy to pick up new vocabulary on birthdays and many other topics thanks to dual-language subtitles that include a furigana option in case you need some additional help.

You can also hover over or click on any word in the subtitles to see an in-depth definition, read or hear example sentences and even view clips from other videos where the word is used.

Add words to your flashcard lists to continue studying them when you’re ready to review through spaced-repetition-based multimedia exercises.

FluentU is available as a browser-based program as well as an iOS and Android app.

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.

Don’t Touch Someone Else’s Gifts

Here’s a word of advice: don’t touch or open someone else’s gift.

That’s a worldwide no-no!

There’s a Proper Way to Give Gifts

If you have a gift to offer the birthday person, you should give 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 gift with both hands and 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 shounen 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 18.  (This was recently lowered from 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 18th birthday is cause 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.”

 

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!

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