Express Your Wishes Properly; A Variety of Birthday Messages in Japanese

This special day only comes once upon a year so be sure that you are expressing it right! Did you know that birthday messages can be different depending on your relationship? No? Now you do. Here are some messages to appropriately wish someone a Happy Birthday in Japanese.

Different ways to express Happy Birthday in Japanese. 

“Birthday” is “tanjoubi” (たんじょうび、誕生日) or “otanjobi” (おたんじょうび、お誕生日) in Japanese. So we simply say “お誕生日おめでとう!”(Otanjoubi Omedetou) to say Happy Birthday.

When written, however, we can use a variety of different messages!! There are some phrases in Japanese that are only used in writing and not said aloud.

Here are different happy birthday messages you can either say or include in their card:

To a friend

Spoken: You can also say “ハッピーバースデイ(happy basudee)” which is the Japanese pronunciation of the English phrase “happy birthday!” then we can add a simple “大好き!” (I love you!), “いつもありがとう!” (Thank you always), and  “楽しんでね!”(tanoshindene) which means “Have fun!”

Written: “親友のあなたにお誕生日おめでとう。” (Shinyu no anatani, otanjoubi omedetou)” which means happy birthday to my best friend. For those you are close enough to, you can add “あなたの願いがすべて叶いますように”(Anata no negai ga subete kanaimasu youni) which means “may all your birthday wishes come true”. 

To an acquaintance

Spoken: Depending on your relationship with this person, you can go with the most casual お誕生日おめでとう (otanjoubi omedetou) or add ございます (gozaimasu) at the end to make it a little more formal. This level of formality is used for people who are older than you or people you are not close enough to be very casual with.

Written: We can add “素晴らしい誕生日になりますように!”(Subarashii tanjoubi ni narimasu youni) which means wishing you a wonderful birthday or “素晴らしい一年になりますように!” (subarashii ichinen ni narimasu youni) which means “wishing you a wonderful year”. 

To a superior 

Spoken and written: For a superior, you must say the formal version  “お誕生日おめでとうございます”(otanjobi omedetou gozaimasu)  and after which we can add some words of gratitude like “いつもお世話になっております”(itsumo osewa ni natte orimasu) - “Thank you for your support” and “いつもありがとうございます”(Arigatou gozaimasu)which means “Thank you always for everything.” or “Thank you for your continued help”.

To someone of an older generation

Spoken: The same with how we greet our boss, we must add the word gozaimasu at the end of otanjoubi omedetou to make it more polite.

Written: We can add the phrase “素晴らしい一年になりますように (subarashii ichinen ni narimasu you ni)” to wish the person a wonderful year ahead.

Birthday greetings addressed to between couples

Spoken: お誕生日おめでとう!(Otanjoubi omedetou) and any other words to express your love for them.

Written: “愛するあなたに お誕生日おめでとう”(Aisuru anatani, otanjoubi omedetou) which simply means “happy birthday, my love” as a term of endearment. However, this phrase is usually only written and not said aloud.

Belated birthday greetings 

When you get a chance to greet someone but it’s at a later date than their actual birthday, just tell them “遅ればせながらお誕生日おめでとう”(Okurebasenagara otanjoubi omedetou) which means belated happy birthday.

For the written messages, sometimes these phrases are already pre-written in birthday cards you can buy at the store. Check the messages inside to see if they are appropriate for the person you are giving it to! 

Tips on choosing the right way of saying Happy Birthday

Just saying happy birthday seems a bit lacking when you greet someone. It is also natural to give your birthday wish to the person so he or she would feel special but we must make sure that we choose the proper way to greet someone on their special day. Here are some tips on how to greet them properly:

Choose based on the degree of closeness you have with the celebrant

Being casual and formal plays a vital role. Again, please add the word “gozaimasu” after wishing someone a happy birthday to be more polite and respectful. Greeting is done differently depending on the closeness you have with the celebrant. 

Choose based on the seniority and formality of your relationship

This is why honorifics and gestures are very important especially to those who are more senior than us and those who are not within our close relationships. 

Choose based on the most fitting one based on the occasion coinciding with the birthday celebration

In here, we must consider whether we must employ a formal or casual tune in our birthday greetings. Consider also the kind of guests invited as well as the theme of the celebration.

Gifts that may go well with the Birthday Greeting

Aside from greeting someone on their birthday, we can also give them some gifts for them to feel more special. Japan has a rich culture and history dictates that they also have things to consider such as superstitions when giving a birthday gift. We must be careful in picking a birthday gift because numbers, colors or even animal print designs may have a different meaning and may offend someone if we just casually give them to the celebrant without considering the meaning of such.

It is a good idea to give flowers if the celebrant is a woman however, count the number of flowers and don’t give anything with the number 4 and 9 because it indicates bad luck. These flowers also have different meanings, which is why it is important to research all about them also. A white rose means innocence, devotion, and silence while a pink rose means trust or happiness.

Birthday cards are also a good choice if the celebrant is an acquaintance you are not really close to. However, when signing a gift card in Japan, you may want to change your pen. For friends, almost any color goes, but for your superiors, the standard black or blue is best.

The same goes for the color of the gift wrapping. Simple and classy colors and designs are preferred, so one solid color with a brighter colored ribbon, or striped patterns are popular for gift wrapping. As it’s a gift, it’s best to avoid all black gift wrapping, as black can stand for death. In Japan, many shops offer gift wrapping services, so if you’re not sure which colors are best, you can ask for recommendations from the staff.

If we are going to give a cake, we must at least know what the celebrant likes. It is one way of being thoughtful by knowing what his or her favorite flavor, colors, or characters are so that we can incorporate them into the cake. 


We must not forget how to convey our feelings, especially when greeting someone on their birthday. In Japan, just like in any other country, we must express our greetings to someone who is celebrating their birthday. However, we must choose how to correctly use the proper greeting for us not to ruin the moment and not create an awkward situation with our unknowingly rude behavior. You should say it differently when you greet an acquaintance or friend compared to when you greet an elder or your boss. We must also make it extra special when it is for our close friends or loved ones. And if we are planning to give a gift, pick a good one and make sure to search on their preferences especially when it comes to numbers, colors and designs. Finally, be sensitive to their culture and pick the best greeting and gift for someone’s birthday.

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