How Do You Say "Merry Christmas" in Japanese?

Girl and Christmas Tree
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Whether you're visiting Japan for the holidays or just want to wish your friends the best of the season, it's easy to say "Merry Christmas" in Japanese. Once you master that, it's easy to learn how to greet people for other holidays like New Years Day.

Christmas in Japan

Christmas isn't a traditional holiday in Japan, which is a predominantly Buddhist and Shinto nation. But like other Western holidays and traditions, Christmas started becoming popular as a secular holiday in the decades after World War II.

In Japan, the day is considered a romantic occasion for couples, similar to another Western holiday, Valentine's Day. Christmas markets and holiday decorations spring up in major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, and some Japanese exchange gifts. But these, too, are Western cultural imports. (So is the quirky Japanese habit of serving KFC on Christmas). 

Saying "Merry Christmas"

Because the holiday is not native to Japan, there is no Japanese phrase for "Merry Christmas." Instead, people in Japan use the English phrase, pronounced with a Japanese inflection: Merii Kurisumasu. Written in katakana script, the form of writing Japanese use for all foreign words, the phrase looks like this: メリークリスマス (Click to listen to the pronunciation.)

Saying "Happy New Year"

Unlike Christmas, observing the new year is a Japanese tradition. Japan has observed Jan. 1 as New Years Day since the late 1800s. Prior to that, Japanese observed the new year at the end of January or beginning of February, much as the Chinese do based on the lunar calendar.

In Japan, the holiday is known as Ganjitsu. It is the most important holiday of the year for the Japanese, with stores and businesses closing for two or three days in observance.

To wish someone a happy new year in Japanese, you would say akemashite omdetou. The word omedetou (おめでとう) means "happy," while akemashite (明けまして)is derived from a similar Japanese phrase, toshi ga akeru ("a new year is dawning").

What makes this phrase culturally distinct is the fact that it is only said on New Years Day itself.

To wish someone a happy new year before or after the date itself, you'd use the phrase  y oi otoshi o omukae kudasai (良いお年をお迎えください), which means "I wish that you will have a good new year."

Other Special Greetings

The Japanese also use the word omedetou as a general way of expressing congratulations. For example, to wish someone a happy birthday, you would say tanjoubi omedetou (誕生日おめでとう). In more formal situations, Japanese use the phrase omedetou gozaimasu (おめでとうございます) is used in more formal situations. If you wanted to give your regards to a newly married couple, you would use the phrase go-kekkon omedetou gozaimasu (ご卒業おめでとう), which means "congratulations on your wedding."

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Abe, Namiko. "How Do You Say "Merry Christmas" in Japanese?" ThoughtCo, Oct. 26, 2017, thoughtco.com/how-do-you-say-merry-christmas-in-japanese-2027870. Abe, Namiko. (2017, October 26). How Do You Say "Merry Christmas" in Japanese? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-do-you-say-merry-christmas-in-japanese-2027870 Abe, Namiko. "How Do You Say "Merry Christmas" in Japanese?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-do-you-say-merry-christmas-in-japanese-2027870 (accessed November 19, 2017).