How Are Birthdays Celebrated in Japan? A Complete Guide

Many people know that in Japan there are celebrations for the Cherry Blossom season, New Years’ festivals, and many summer festivals known as Matsuri. But do Japanese people also celebrate their Birthdays? And if they do, are their traditions more similar to other Asian countries or have birthdays become westernized?

Since after the 2nd world war and the influx of Westerners Japanese people celebrate their birthdays with family and friends and the typical birthday food like cakes, sweet sugary foods, and Japanese specials. Children’s birthdays are more elaborate than adults’ who prefer lowkey affairs with friends and family at a restaurant. The birthday person doesn’t have to pay for anything since it is their friends treating them.

Did you know that birthday celebrations in Japan weren’t that common until after the 2nd world war with the influx of westerners. However, they picked up from there, and it is now more common to see people celebrate birthdays in Japan. 

Japanese man with party hat and cup cake with japanese flag in background

Japanese birthday traditions prior to this borrow heavily from the riturals Chinese birthdays. There are, however, specific ways they differ since Japan is a country with a rich history and culture. Read on as we dissect how exactly birthdays are celebrated in Japan and how different they are from the west or other parts of the world you’ve visited.

Differences and Similarities between Japanese and Western Birthdays

Due to noticeable cultural differences between the Japanese and the Western culture, there are various ways in which Japanese birthdays differ from those in the west. Also, there are a few ways they are similar. For further explanations of all the points in the table read on after this section!

Japanese BirthdaysWestern Birthday
How to say Happy Birthday!o-tanjoubi omedetou
Happy Birthday!
ImportanceAlthough most Japanese people celebrate birthdays, they are more important for children than they are for adults.

It is therefore common to see Japanese people celebrate less and less birthdays the older they become.
In the west, any birthday can pretty much be special if you want it to be and you can have celebrations at any age, although there are some that most people defer to for big occasions.
Significant BirthdaysThe 7th and 3rd birthdays are significant for girls, while the 5th and 3rd birthdays are significant for boys.

The 20th birthday is of great significance for youths since they are now entering adulthood and are ready to receive official recognition as adults.

After that, the 60th, 77th, 88th, and 99th are also big milestones for Japanese people who reach them.
Most Western people place significance on certain birthdays, such as 1st, 13th, 16th, and 21st, and then each decade birthday like a 30th or 40th thereafter for example. But any and every birthday can be celebrated. Some people even celebrate half birthdays!
CakeLike in the west, the cake is a significant part of Japanese birthdays. The cake might not be present for adult birthday parties, but it can’t be missed at a child’s birthday party. Parents decorate the cake with candles for the birthday boy or girl to blow and make a wish.In the west, you can’t call it a birthday party without a cake and candles. People go out of their way to ensure there is a cake to cut and for candles to be blown out.
FoodApart from the cake, sugary foods such as sweets and chocolate are eaten, especially if it’s a child’s birthday party.

Typical Japanese party foods such as sukiyaki, fried chicken (karaage), and thinly sliced beef (shabu-shabu) are popular party foods for adults.

The foods usually follow the birthday boy’s or girl’s tastes and preferences.
Party food which is usually processed and full of sugar is generally eaten at children’s birthday parties. Sometimes food is designed and created around a birthday party theme. Adult birthday parties can follow a similar cuisine, but many will offer a meal that includes the birthday person’s favorite food, followed by dessert.
Age on BirthdayA Japanese baby’s age was previously counted from conception, where the period of pregnancy was seen as a full year. 

Recently, however, babies are zero at birth and add to their age on the anniversary of their age.
In the west, a baby is zero at the time they are born and each year on the anniversary of their birth they turn a year older.
Date of BirthdayThe date of the birthday is usually the day the person was born.

However, it used to be every New year’s day before the influx of western culture changed.
Most westerner’s birthdays are the day they were born. For some older people, the date might differ because the registration of births differed considerably from the past to today, and to save hassle they just go with what the paperwork states.
When to celebrateIn Japan, birthdays for kids are usually celebrated on the exact day whenever possible. If the kids are in school, the parents in concert with the school throw a small party with cake and sweets.

Adults, however, tend to celebrate their birthdays around their actual birthdate and rarely on the day of their birthday.

Japanese adults love to spend their birthday with their significant other. They get to decide when they want their birthday to be celebrated by friends and family.
In the west, if your birthday falls on a weekday, you might have a small family celebration that night, but your party might occur on the weekend or the best date around your birthday when you are able to get a venue or do an activity you were looking forward to. It is the birthday person’s choice, but generally the day would be within a week or two of the actual birth date.
How old are you?In Japan, like in the west, it isn’t nice to ask an adult their age. That’s unless their birthday is around the corner.

Children, however, can be asked their age at any time. You probably won’t even have to ask since the parents will voluntarily offer up that information.
Many Adult westerners find it impolite to be asked how old they are, especially by strangers. It is generally ok to ask them around their birthday time especially if they are having a party and you are invited to celebrate with them. Parents on the other hand are always telling everyone all about their children and their ages – it is ok to discuss the ages of children.
GiftsAlthough the Japanese hate to focus much on the individual, it is obligatory to have a gift for the birthday person.

A birthday or gift card is welcome.

If it’s coming of age, birthday money is the more preferred gift, although you can bring pretty much anything you think the birthday person will love.
If you are invited to a party, it is obligatory to bring a card and a gift for the birthday person. The gift should be something you think the birthday person would like and if you are unsure – money or a gift card is also ok to give.
SongThe famous English version of the Happy birthday song is also sung in Japan.

The song is sung as the person blows candles on the cake before cutting it and distributing it amongst the guests.
The ‘Happy Birthday Song’ is traditionally sung after lighting candles on the birthday cake. The candles are then blown out after the song has finished by the birthday person who makes a personal secret wish when blowing them out.

Do people in Japan Celebrate their Birthdays?

Yes, people do celebrate birthdays in Japan, although the celebrations came to prominence late after the 2nd world war. Previously most Japanese people would celebrate one universal birthday on New Year’s Day when everyone would collectively turn a year older.

Consequently, children reap the full rewards of this shift in culture since birthdays are mostly organized for them. It isn’t much of a big deal for adult Japanese people since most of them would do without all that attention.

For adults, it’s usually a low-key affair. An adult’s birthday in Japan is generally celebrated around their actual birthday and rarely on the particular day. That’s because they reserve the day to spend it with their significant other. The celebration, however, is usually a friends and family affair, and the birthday person is treated to a meal at a restaurant.

Japanese people usually focus more on the group than the individual. It is, therefore, no surprise to see that the birthday person is rarely responsible for the treats as their friends do it all for them.

Friends and family go out of their way to ensure the birthday person doesn’t have to spend anything on their birthday. It constitutes a sort of grownup birthday gift for the birthday boy or girl.

Do Japanese people celebrate any special or specific Birthdays?

In Japan, some birthdays bear more significance than other birthdays. The most obvious example of this is the first birthday. A baby’s maiden birthday is usually a big deal, even if the child doesn’t understand most of what is going on around them.

However, before a child’s first birthday, certain celebrations are held to celebrate their birth. Most children didn’t get to live that long in the past, which gave special significance to celebrating each milestone a child reaches.

Although not actual birthdays, a baby’s life on earth is celebrated seven days, a month, and a hundred days after birth. The celebrations set the stage for the child’s first birthday, which has more significance for the parents.

After that, there are the 7, 5, 3 celebrations where boys aged five and three, alongside girls aged seven and three, go to a shrine to celebrate their life. Again this is to pray for longevity. This ceremony is called Shichi-go-san and is usually a massive festival.

1st Birthday: Rice Cake Tradition – Issho Mochi

But while in the west, it has become a tradition for children to set up photoshoots of them smashing a specially made ‘smash’ cake for cute memories of their first birthday, it is quite different in Japan. Children instead step on or carry a rice cake. How the baby reacts to this is a sign of good or bad luck. 

Another one is where specific things are placed in front of the baby. Whatever the baby chooses is seen as a sign of what they might become in the future.

A baby who chooses a calculator signifies that they might be an engineer in the future or gravitate towards a mathematical, business, or scientific career. 

20th Birthday: The Coming of Age Party

The next significant birthday for the Japanese is the 20th birthday which is deemed the coming of age birthday. 20 is a big deal since the person will now be considered an adult able to make their own decisions as well as vote. They can also start drinking alcohol if they like!

Everyone turning 20 on their birthday gets official confirmation in the form of a letter from the government informing them they are now adults. The coming of age celebration is held every second Monday of the year. The most popular gift at such parties is money.

Coming of age parties are perhaps one of the largest parties a Japanese individual might have seen to celebrate their birthday. They are an entire festival that draws all the people turning 20 in the whole country. Women get to wear the traditional Japanese attire, the kimono, to mark this day. 

The 60th Birthday

Japan is an Asian country and is thus bound to share a few traditions with other Asian nations. Like with the Chinese, the 60th birthday is also quite huge in Japan.

The significance of the 60th birthday comes in the person completing an entire cycle of the Chinese Zodiac. A person is thet5eforte considered to start a new life on their 60th birthday or to put it simply; they are reborn.

The cake eaten on this day has unique decorations that have significant meaning. It is usually decorated with cranes and turtles besides the candles the person will blow to make a wish. The birthday person is generally in red which is a symbolic color for rebirth.

The 77th, 88th, and 99th Birthdays

The 77th year is a cherished year for each Japanese individual since they are deemed to have lived long enough to get to the happy year. It is usually marked with joyous celebrations since the birthday person is most likely grateful to have been fortunate enough to live to that age.

In the same fashion, the 88th birthday is also another significant milestone for the Japanese. It is termed the year of rice. Rice is the symbol of good luck in Japanese culture, so the thought that 88 looks like rice probably initiated the celebration of this milestone birthday.

The 99th year birthday is usually called the white birthday it is called the white birthday because the Japanese character for white 白is similar to the character for 100 白寿

Down the line, there are more longevity celebrations the more the years the birthday person grows. It would interest you to learn that Japan is one of the countries with the highest life expectancy globally. That probably means these longevity birthdays are a much more widespread occurrence.

What Food is eaten at a typical Japanese Birthday Party?

The Japanese have a strong food culture, and it wouldn’t be a party if there isn’t any good and popular food present. During birthdays the Japanese enjoy popular Japanese cuisines such as yakitori and sukiyaki. Sukiyaki is thin slices of beef eaten with soup.

Another party meal enjoyed in Japan from beef is shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is a combination of beef, pork, and vegetables with soup.

Japanese fried chicken is also a popular party food that you will find at a Japanese birthday party. Karaage, as it is popularly known, is fried chicken with less oil than the western version of fried chicken.

Yakiniku is another favorite party food in Japan birthday parties. That is the Japanese version of barbecued meat. I bet you’d agree nothing would be as fun as sitting around a grill with friends and roasting some beef as you celebrate their birthday.

Not to be left behind are pancakes and soybeans. The type of food cooked at birthday parties in Japan will, however, depend on whether the birthday person enjoys them or not. And remember it is the friends treating the birthday person to the meals.

Another thing is food is usually eaten at a restaurant since the Japanese rarely hold house parties. Japanese restaurants allow people to prepare their food, especially when it’s a special occasion like a birthday.

Do people have birthday cakes at their parties in Japan?

Japanese birthday parties also have cakes with candles and other decorations depending on the significance of the birthday.

However, this is more common for children who enjoy a cake with candles to signify the age they are turning. Older people have their cakes decorated with turtles and cranes, which are longevity symbols.

Many people in Japan tend to enjoy a certain type of cake for their birthday – white sponge with cream and strawberries. 

Do People in Japan Give Gifts at Birthday Parties?

Yes, people in Japan do give birthday gifts. The types of gifts range from money to anything you think the birthday person would love to have.

You, however, need not trouble yourself with getting an expensive or extravagant gift if you can’t afford it. That’s because most Japanese people don’t love it when everything is focused on them.

The typical birthday gifts will include walking sticks, pigeons, or whatever the person loves. However, traditional Japanese longevity gifts are also welcome.

A popular way of gifting the birthday person in japan is by paying for everything. The birthday is their way to feel special and appreciated. It makes a lot of sense not to have them worry about money to spend on their celebration.

Jewelry is also a common gift, especially if you are buying them for your significant other. It is only natural that Japanese women expect a gift for their birthday. Although not the only way a person would show their appreciation, Japanese women do love some jewelry on their birthday.

Is the Birthday Song or ‘Happy Birthday to You’ sung in Japan?

The Japanese sing the English version of the happy birthday song with a strong tinge of the Japanese accent. That is expected, seeing that birthdays only gained traction with the influx of western people to japan after the 2nd world war. Therefore it is common to see the Japanese take a western-style approach to celebrating birthdays, including singing the happy birthday song.


Until 1873 the Japanese people followed a different version of a lunisolar calendar including the Chinese version. In following this calendar New Years Day was a major celebration that included the tradition of having a universal birthday.

On the 1st day of the new year, everyone in Japan turned a year older which was the same as the Chinese tradition for tracking age. Birthdays were not a big deal at all until western influences and traditions seeped into the culture around the 1950s.

Celebrating children’s birthdays especially seemed to be a western tradition that struck a chord with the Japanese who took on the rituals of having a small party, giving presents, singing happy birthday, and blowing out candles on a cake.  


  • The Japanese enjoy celebrating their birthdays, although they are more extravagant for kids than adults. Adults usually prefer low-key celebrations that don’t focus on the individual rather than the collective.
  • There are certain significant birthdays for children, including the 7, 5, 3 celebration, which celebrates them reaching those ages. For Adults Significant birthdays happen when they turn 20, 60, 77, 88 and 99.
  • Like in the west, the Japanese sing the happy birthday song and cut a cake decorated with candles. The happy birthday song is sung in English. The birthday person doesn’t get to pay for anything since it is up to their friends to spoil them on their big day.
  • I hope you now have a clearer idea of how birthdays are celebrated in Japan. We hope you learned a few things that you might use to surprise a Japanese friend on their birthday. Just remember not to let them pay for anything. Well, unless they insist!

Samantha Bellerose

Samantha Bellerose is the creator and main writer for The Birthday Party Website. She is a mother to four kids and she loves preparing and planning birthday parties for her family and friends. Samantha is also the writer, creator and owner of several other websites and has found a passion for sharing her knowledge and experience as an educator online!

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