Celebrations are something that is always welcome in our lives. Being them ours or of our loved ones. It is because of that exact reason that we, in this article, will be talking about the diverse ways to express your congratulations in Japanese and how to congratulate different people in different situations.
1. おめでとう Omedetou
This one is the non-formal, most commonly used word for congratulating someone about anything that it could be, it is literally the Japanese equivalent of *congratulations*. It can be used in any situation you want to express your happiness for their achievements.
Why? It is because this is the most commonly used word that we would like to take a small sideways break to explain where it came from and what is the meaning of the way it is written in kanji, even if it’s just an Ateji (Kanji given post existence of the Japanese original word) it presents an interesting reflection on the meaning of congratulating someone.
It is thought that おめでとう” Omedetou” comes from 愛でる“Mederu” (To admire // to love) and to it got combined with the word 甚し “Itashi” (Extremely, intensely, immensely).
愛でる would take the meaning of thinking with admiration of someone, or that you have them in a dear spot in your heart. And 甚し would be the abridged version of 甚だしい（Hanahadashi）that would be a word to express, “ a lot” or “fervently” Expressing a big amount of something. From here we can understand that from the meaning of both original words, おめでとう “Omedetou” would present meaning that while looking at your beloved one rejoicing with joy thanks to their achievements.
Of course you too, together with them, your heart also gets captivated and syncs with empathy to their happiness and become happy thanks to their successes even though they might not be related directly to your own personal gains. So, in a nutshell, Omedetou means, “I rejoice from the bottom of my heart just by looking at you, rejoicing from your own achievements a lot.”
Ateji of Omedetou
The Ateji for Omedetou おめでとう (お芽出度う ) as all the other Ateji, are a series of Kanji given to a Japanese word after the word itself came to be, so they just try to add a secondary meaning to the word or in most cases, simply trying to find a way that, while still following the rules and the common pronunciation for the kanji themselves, can get close to the pronunciation of a word.
The Ateji for Omedetou お芽出度う, includes the characters for 芽 “Me” (Sprout) 出 “De” (Come out), and 度 “to” (Occasion, time, opportunity). This Ateji could be understood as if, when you say お芽出度う “Omedetou,” you are telling the receiver that *It was time for the sprouts to come out*.
Also, this would mean that the seeds are all the previous efforts and sacrifices that someone has done before, until that time and that now it is the occasion and the time that those seeds that were watered with efforts and hardships have now started to “come out” and show themselves as a certain moment of happiness and rejoice for the receiver.
With this, we close the small side note about the interesting origin and hidden meaning in the way of what the kanji for Omedetou defines what a congratulatory moment is.
2. おめでとうございます Omedetou gozaimasu
Omedetou Gozaimasu is just the formal version of Omedetou, as it simply adds the formal “to be” verb, Gozaimasu to it. It is important to say that while “おめでとうです” “Omedetou Desu” is not grammatically incorrect, it is not as commonly heard as the one step above, Omedetou Gozaimasu. When asking Japanese people, they would say that, yeah it is not incorrect, but, it is simply not used, or that it is used mostly reserved for the media, in manga or in series.
In addition, It is important to say that even when someone doesn’t speak formally with someone in Japanese, it is still more common for them to use the formal version of it instead of the more informal version without any specific reason.
3. お祝い申し上げます Oiwai moushiagemasu
This is an even more formal way to express congratulations to someone, this one is mainly used by companies’ informal mails, or in letters. This is considered quite formal, so it mostly is used in professional or formal events if not mainly in textual form.
4. お慶び申し上げます Oyorokobi moushiageru
This one is a bit different from the other ones, in that while it still expresses feelings of happiness at the news, it explicitly is understood as so, this one is mainly used when answering a wedding invitation or in a formality letter sent to a new graduate student who already signed a contract to enter a business, it is in that case, that the company will use this expression as the congratulatory occasion also presents a good interest for them.
In the latter case, it could be understood as a congratulatory expression used mainly in a Win-Win situation, but it can also be used on other occasions just as a formality.
5. 祝賀 Shukuga
This word literally means congratulations and it is used mainly as the “Topic” of a congratulatory letter also it can be used as a stamp on the new years’ greeting cards to congratulate the beginning of the new year.
6. 慶賀 Keiga
This word literally means congratulations or that there is something glad or amazing about something. It is commonly used when listening to an achievement from a third party more than the one that is telling you about it than directly about themselves. For example, when a teacher tells you that a lab member of his lab has won an award or the like. A safe way to answer would be 慶賀の極みですね。”Keiga no Kiwami desune.” “That is something to congratulate“
7. Joyous situations and their Japanese twist
We always want the best for our dear ones, isn’t that, right? Then it is also important to know what the best gifts to give, or etiquettes are to keep during the different good occasions our beloved ones could have in Japan.
Weddings in Japan have some interesting singularities that are not present in other countries that there would be the need to create a special entry in this blog for that, but, for now, we will be adding the gift etiquette to have when giving a wedding gift as an attendee only instead.
What is okay to give? Mainly there are 2 options, money or a gift.
When giving money the main etiquette to keep is that you need to keep the numbers in odd numbers, like 10k, 30k, 50k, etc. That is because, it can’t be evenly divided between both parties at the wedding, so it is a given that is something they should use and spend as a couple instead. There is also a range of amounts depending on your relationship with the to-be newlyweds, but that is a complex topic we will be giving a pass on in this article.
Note when giving a wedding gift
When it comes to gifts, there are various things that should be avoided
- Sharp objects, like knives or razors. That is because it is considered that you are hoping for the “cutting” of the just made marriage ties done at the wedding so it would really be of bad taste.
- Stuff that has “Shi” or “Ku” in their names, which is because both of them could be related to死 (Shi, death) & 苦 (ku, Suffering) respectively. It is because if they have this in their names it is considered of bad fortune as it is thought that it could bring suffering and early death to the newlywed couple. In this case, it is just mattered to know the name of the gift to avoid making a mistake that could be taken badly by a simple mistake
What’s the additional note to do with the gifts?
- Avoid giving gift catalog articles. This is because it is a special occasion and stuff from gift catalogs is normally given at any time, even as a formality for a home visit. The catalog is one of the acceptable mistakes, but still, it is better to at least take a bit of time by selecting the gift by yourself because the most important part of giving a physical gift is that it demonstrates that you care for the newly formed couple by giving them something more valuable than money, your time and dedication to search for something that you feel that would be good for them. If you don’t have the time or just are not sure what to give, it is better to give the money directly as it is completely valid to do so too.
- Tea, this is simply because, as the point above, is something that is given quite lightly or more commonly as a gift, so it is considered too common for a once in a lifetime event such as a wedding.
Additional Note Regarding Gift
Another important note to have when giving a wedding present is that there is also a time frame to keep when giving it to the to-be newlyweds, the gift should be given between 2 months up to 1 week PRIOR to the wedding day. That is because giving it around 2 months, in the case of money, it could be employed in last moment stuff that could be needed for the wedding so that the couple would be able to don’t feel obfuscated with the sudden spendings.
And it shouldn’t be closer than 1 week before, because at that point there shouldn’t be anything left for the wedding, and it would also look like you want to be remembered specifically by the wedding day.
It is considered bad manners to give the money on the wedding day and it should be avoided at all costs, that is because it would feel like you are trying to show off to the other party attendees or that you want to steal the spotlight of the couple, or even if giving it secretly, it could become something they would be thinking about instead of enjoying the moment of their wedding.
Let’s be sure to give the money within the acceptable time frame or at least avoid giving it during the wedding day. It is also better to give the money in person, but if it is not possible sending it through the fast post is considered good manners.
Birthdays in Japan, for once, are not as dearly celebrated as in other countries, there is no big party, nor a big reunion. For most Japanese people, the big or eventful birthdays are in their childhood and after that a small cake and sometimes a small present is normal, so for foreigners, it might be a good idea to not expect much besides a coffee or a meal. But if you want to give something, it is not bad seen at all. Some foreigners like to organize their own “drinking out night” or stuff like that, so in that case, it is a clever idea to plan beforehand and just enjoy the day with your friends.
During the time period between March and April, it is especially the season when a good number of younger people graduate from their respective school grades, and not a few of them enter the workforce for the first time such as the graduation from their professional education. So, we will talk about the ways to congratulate someone during their graduation.
Normally, flowers are a good gift for a sepia who is graduating or even a small memento might be good. Some schools, especially universities and specialized schools, have begun to give graduation gifts that could become useful for someone who is just entering the workforce, such as a pen or a presentation card organizer. If you are a senpai and want to give a gift to your kouhai or juniors that are just graduating, a meal or a small gift such as the ones mentioned above, a pen or a notepad would be a promising idea.
Another category of congratulatory events would be the holidays that are celebrated all around the year, the most common ones that would mean giving a congratulatory greeting or gift would be the next ones, each one would be explained lightly just to give an idea of how they are celebrated and the details or uniqueness of each one.
成人の日 Seijin no hi (The coming of age day)
It is celebrated on the second Monday of January, and it is considered a national holiday in Japan. During the coming of age, there is a special ceremony taking place at the middle schools in Japan, where all the people from the generations that have or would turn 20 around that year would reunite in a formal event. Girls usually wear a special Kimono called a Furisode, which has longhand sleeves and is about bright colors.
During this day it is celebrated that people have reached the age of adulthood in Japan (20 years old) and reunite with their classmates from middle school, which is, by law, the last 3 years of compulsory education. To this day, parents or people sometimes give presents. While it is not obligatory, pens, alcohol, tumblers, watches, and wallets are considered the right gifts.
In Japan, the legal drinking age is 20 so it is common to see groups of 20-year-old people going to drink in bars or restaurants and have all night long karaoke parties during this day as it is a congratulatory event as well as a meeting with old-time friends from when someone was barely a teenager.
ママの日 Mama no hi
Mother’s Day in Japan is the second Sunday of May of every year, and it is similar to all around the world, a day in which to celebrate one’s mother by showing them the affection and gratitude for her love and attention during the year and one’s life. The proper cost for a gift for this day is around 3,000 and 5,000 yen and it, as before has a choice of no-good gifts, that while your mom would gladly take, it is considered bad manners to give. This includes sharp objects that “sever a relationship” also objects that have a pointy edge that could cause harm when mistakenly used.
It is almost unneeded to denote that if the mother in question were to ask for a sharp object, it is more important to give her something that she explicitly wants than keeping up manners. Some foreigners staying with host families like to give small gifts to their host mother as a sign of care and attention for all the things they have helped them while they have stayed in their care.
For flowers, the most common ones for Mother’s Day in Japan are carnations. If a mother “puts her family first” more than herself, a good that could be shared with the whole family might be better than something that can only be used by her. In this case, food is a great choice to consider.
パパの日 (Papa no hi)
Father’s Day, the same way as in the US and other parts of the world, takes place on the third Sunday of June. For Father’s Day, there is not much of a rule for gifts as for other days, but as always something that could be used in their everyday life or something for their hobbies is considered a desirable choice. Even a choice of their favorite snacks is a great idea for a father who likes to enjoy an alcoholic beverage after a long day of work.
勤労感謝の日 (Roudou kansha no hi)
November 23rd is the day for appreciating the efforts of the people in the workforce, it is a national holiday. It is a day where a gift is not expected nor given normally, but recently some small and big businesses have started to give appreciation gifts to their employees the day before this day. The most common gifts are stuff that can be used in everyday life, but not in the work environment or even alcohol.
Why? This is because it is supposed to be a day planned so that they can leave the hardships of work, at least one day off their heads and enjoy it as they please, that is doing their favorite things or just passing it with their families.
年末年始 (Nenmatsu Nenshi) (New Year’s)
For the new year’s, there is an interesting Japanese tradition of the 年賀状 (Nengajou). There are small letters that are freely decorated with pictures, drawings, texts, etc. They are sent to all the people that you feel that you have been under their care. They are supposed to arrive around January 1st to the 3rd at the latest.
And it always becomes news with the number of cards that each year gets sent so it is expected that you should send them around or preferably before the 25th of December as later than that would mean that they might not arrive on time. This event saturates the Japanese postal system so much that even online shopping stores that promise next-day delivery, move their estimated delivery dates, from “next day” to “ approximately one week delivery” just around this period.
9. Another Event
Another event that happens around New Year is the お年玉 (Otoshidama). This tradition is that older person, or people that are in the workforce give an amount of pocket money to kids, younger people, or students. The money is given through a small envelope that is normally given in person. For students and kids this is the time of the year that they get their biggest amount of money to spend, so, some of them try to distribute it around the year in small quantities while others splurge on game consoles or toys.
It is known that the amount should increase with the age of the receiver, as elementary school students normally receive around 2k~3k yen. Middle school students receive 5k yen on average and high schoolers normally expect to receive around 10k yen per envelope. It is rude to give the money as is, so it is always a clever idea to put it in an envelope, or a slip before giving it.
As it was seen there are a lot of different days and events in Japan that are joyous, but even then present their own small rules and secret manners to keep as well as the different ways to express your Congratulations in Japanese as it should be something good to master as it will become in handy when trying to show your congratulations to the people you can interact in Japan.
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