Express Your Wishes Properly: A Variety of Happy Birthday Messages in Japanese

WeXpats
2022/04/14

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


Table of Contents

  1. Things to Consider Before Wishing Someone Happy Birthday in Japanese
  2. Different Ways to Express Happy Birthday in Japanese (spoken and written)
    1. The Basic "Happy Birthday" in Japanese
    2. To a Friend
    3. To an Aquaintance / Coworker
    4. To a Superior / Someone Older
    5. To your Significant Other
    6. Belated Birthday Greetings
  3. Choosing a Birthday Gift in Japan
  4. Summary

Things to Consider Before Wishing Someone Happy Birthday in Japanese

The word "birthday" is tanjoubi (たんじょうび、誕生日) in Japanese. But when we greet people for their birthday, we use the word otanjobi (おたんじょうび、お誕生日).

So we simply say “お誕生日おめでとう”(Otanjoubi Omedetou) or the more polite ”お誕生日おめでとうございます” (Otanjoubi Omedetou gozaimasu) to say Happy Birthday.

But what we say and what we write in their card differs based on several things:

The degree of closeness you have with the person

If you're close or the same age (or to someone younger), you can use the most basic お誕生日おめでとう (Otanjoubi Omedetou). Otherwise, always use お誕生日おめでとうございます (Otanjoubi Omedetou gozaimasu).

The formality of your relationship

While the basic "happy birthday" part may not change much, what you say or write in addition to the initial happy birthday greeting will greatly vary depending on if the person is your boss, client, friend, etc., as well as the formality of what you say.   

The occasion

Always consider whether your birthday greeting should be formal or casual based on TPO (time, place, occasion). Even if they are a close friend, consider if your boss or family members are present. This goes for any language not just English, but what you say should be different depending on whether you're in the office, at school, at a nomikai (drinking party) with colleagues, at a gathering with just close friends, and so on. 

Different Ways to Express Happy Birthday in Japanese (spoken and written)

The Basic "Happy Birthday" in Japanese

As we stated above

“Birthday” is tanjoubi (たんじょうび、誕生日) in Japanese. But when we greet people for their birthday, we use the word otanjobi (おたんじょうび、お誕生日).

So we simply say “お誕生日おめでとう!”(Otanjoubi Omedetou) or the more polite ”お誕生日おめでとうございます!” (Otanjoubi Omedetou gozaimasu) to say Happy Birthday.

When written, however, we can use a variety of different messages in addition to the initial happy birthday greeting.

Some common phrases used in birthday messages include:

いつも (Itsumo) - Always

We use it to thank them for something they are constantly doing for us. 

Casual: いつもありがとう (ございます)
            Itsumo arigatou (gozazimasu).
            Thank you always / for everything.

Formal: いつもお世話になっております
            Itsumo osewa ni natte orimasu.
            Thank you for your continued support.  

~ますように (~masu youni) - I hope you (your birthday/year)~

This is used to state wishes for the day or year.

Example: 素敵な / 素晴らしい 一年になりますように。
              Sutekina/Subarashii ichinen ni narimasu youni.
              I hope you have a wonderful year.

~ください (~kudasai) - I'm hoping you / Please~

This is a different way from ~masuyouni to wish something for someone for their birthday and upcoming year.

Example: これからもお元気でいてください。
               
Korekaramo ogenkide itekudasai. 
               I hope you stay in good health.
              (used more for family and friends)

これからも・今後とも (Korekaramo (casual)・Kongotomo (formal)) - From now on / continue to be

Like the above example, this is used to show that you hope the person or situation stays the same as it has been. 

Casual: これからも よろしく!
            
Korekaramo yoroshiku! 
            I look forward to our continued relationship!

Formal: 今後ともよろしくお願いいたします。 
             
Kongotomo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.
             I thank you for your continued support and look forward to our continued relationship. 

Here are different happy birthday messages categorized by relationship that you can use paired with the above examples:

To a Friend

Spoken

The most casual form: お誕生日おめでとう!(otanjoubi omedetou)

When spoken, you can even leave off the o and say 誕生日おめでとう (tanjoubi omedetou). But when written, you should include the o.

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!”

You can add a simple “大好き!” (Daisuki: I love you!), “いつもありがとう!” (Itsumo arigatou: Thank you always for everything), and  “楽しくすごしてね!”(tanoshiku sugoshitene) “Have fun on your birthday!”

Written

These are just some examples you can choose from. 

親友よ、お誕生日おめでとう!
Shinyu yo, otanjoubi omedetou!
Happy birthday, best friend! 

あなたの願いがすべて叶いますように。
Anata no negai ga subete kanaimasu youni.
May all your (birthday) wishes come true. 

ずっと友達でいようね。
Zutto tomodachi de iyoune.
Let's stay friends forever (for a long time).

これからも よろしく!
Korekaramo yoroshiku! 
I look forward to our continued relationship!

Adding what you like or admire about them, bringing up good memories you have together, and/or reminding them of or making plans to do something with them this year are also great add-ons to happy birthday messages.

To an Acquaintance / Coworker

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. Again, this level of formality is used for people who are older than you, higher in position at work, or people you are not close enough to be very casual with.

Written

素敵な / 素晴らしい 一年になりますように。
Sutekina/Subarashii ichinen ni narimasu youni.
I hope you have a wonderful year. 

これからも健康な日々でありますように。
Korekaramo kenkou na hibi de arimasu youni.
I hope you continue to stay healthy every day.

これからもよろしくお願いします。 
Korekaramo yoroshiku onegai shimasu.
I thank you for your continued support and look forward to our continued relationship. 

If you see them often, you can thank them or praise them for something you noticed about them in addition to wishing them well. And of course, if you have a closer working relationship, then you can be casual. 

To a Superior / Someone Older than you

Spoken and Written

For a superior or someone older, you must use the formal version  “お誕生日おめでとうございます”(otanjobi omedetou gozaimasu).  

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 continued support/guidance.

いつも 助けて・アドバイス いただきありがとうございます。
Itsumo tasukete / adobaisu itadaki arigatou gozaimasu.
Thank you always for your help/advice. (Please choose whether help or advice is more applicable.)

今後ともよろしくお願いいたします。 
Kongotomo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.
I thank you for your continued support and look forward to our continued relationship. 

To your Significant Other

Spoken and written (based on how shy you are!):

Use the casual form お誕生日おめでとう!(Otanjoubi omedetou).

生まれてきてくれてありがとう。
Umaretekite kurete arigatou.
Thank you for being born.

一緒にいてくれてありがとう。
Isshoni itekurete arigatou.
Thanks for being with me.

ずっと一緒にいようね。
Zutto isshoni iyoune.
Let's stay together forever.

これからも よろしくね。
Korekaramo yoroshikune. 
I look forward to our continued relationship.

愛してる。
Aishiteru.
I love you. 

Belated Birthday Greetings 

When you get a chance to greet someone but it’s at a later date than their actual birthday, say,

"遅ればせながらお誕生日おめでとう(ございます)".
(Okurebasenagara otanjoubi omedetou (gozaimasu))

This means "happy belated birthday". Then, you can ask them how they spent their birthday (if you're close/comfortable enough). 

Note: 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! 

Choosing a Birthday Gift in Japan

Aside from greeting someone on their birthday, we can also give them gifts.

But again, there are some things to consider. 

Birthday Card

Cards are nice, because it's both a physical object you can hand them as well as very meaningful. There are many cute and classy designs available at stores. However, when signing a card in Japan, you may want to change your pen. For friends, almost any color goes, but for your superiors or professional settings, the standard black or blue is best.

Numbers

Try to avoid giving things that have 4 or 9 items as they are considered bad luck. It's rare that people will specifically count, but it's best to avoid it anyway. 

Flowers

Flowers are nice for friends. However, in the office, flowers are mostly given as congratulatory presents, such as for a promotion or when someone is leaving the company, so it's usually better not to gift flowers for birthdays at the office. (Plus most people don't have a vase at the office.)

Flowers also have different meanings, which is why it is important to research about them as well. Red roses of course are romantic, so if you're just friends, other colors are better. Flower shops usually have premade bouquets with various seasonal flowers, so that might be your best bet. Just make sure you don't buy the ones meant to be decorated at a grave or household shrine/altar as shops often sell both!

Gift Wrapping

Simple and classy colors and designs are preferred (usually), 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.

Presents at Work

Note that anything too expensive might make the person feel bad, especially if they are a coworker or acquaintance, as there's a social expectation to give back something of an equal or greater value. Simple gifts such as practical stationery, sweets like cookies, or tea or coffee are perfect gifts for coworkers or your boss.  

Summary

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by G.C.PRESS (@g.c.press)

In Japan, just like in any other country, it's common to wish someone happy birthday on their special day. However, we must use the proper greeting so that we don't create an awkward situation with our unknowingly rude behavior. To sum up, pay attention to your relationship with the person and your settings, and know how to adjust your message accordingly. 

If in doubt, a simple "お誕生日おめでとうございます。" will never go wrong!

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