Happy Birthday in Japanese Characters
The Simple Way
There are actually a number of ways Happy Birthday can be said in Japanese. The easiest way would be to use the Japanese phonetic alphabet which is called Katakana (カタカナ) these angular characters are used to represent foreign words in Japanese or phonetic sounds. There characters actually have no meaning, just sound only. They are also used heavy for onomatopoeia.
The result would sound like "Happii Baasudee" ハッピーバースデー.
Although most Japanese do not speak conversational English, they do study the grammar from an elementary school level and there are a lot of English loan words in the language pronounced with a heavy Japanese accent. Words like "Happy Birthday, Merry Xmas, Happy New Year" all understood by Japanese.
The Real Way
The correct way to say Happy Birthday in Japanese is to say:
"Otanjoubi omedatou" or お誕生日おめでとう
The Japanese charcter 誕 (tan) means born, or to become alive. 生(jou) means life or to live, so when you place them together you get 誕生 (tanjou) which means birth. 日(bi) means day, it is normally pronounced "hi" but in Japanese "the h,b and p sounds are interchangeable depending on the preceding sound.
おめでとう - Omedetou - simply means congratulations. The お(o) at the beginning is an honorific polite speech particle. Many Japanese words have the お(o) sound at the beginning of words to make them polite. Money O-Kane and many other words also the "o".
ございます - Gozaimasu can also be added at the end for politeness.
The Japanese Character sets
Japanese uses four different alphabets, one of them is Romaji which is the English alphabet however pronunciation is very Japanese sounding.
- Katakana カタカナ - This is used to represent foreign or borrowed words, like Super, TV, Computer, Game etc..
- Hiragana ひらがな － This is used mainly for grammar or to represent words readable for young children.
- Kanji 漢字 - These are the Chinese imported characters, where each character has its own meaning, however the sound can vary depending on what precedes or succeeds the character.
Learning to speak Japanese is actually easier than most people think. If you concentrate on the spoken language rather than the written language, you will find that the grammar structure of Japanese is even much simpler than English. Within 6 months it's possible to speak at a basic conversational level if you use it daily.
Japanese has very few sounds compared to the English language and the pronunciation is not normally an issue for most English speakers. The only thing to be aware of is keeping the intonation relatively flat, otherwise you can easily be miss understood for questions that are supposed to be statements and vice versa.
Below are some recommended books which I have used myself.